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Conventional wisdom has long perceived the patent and tort systems as separate legal entities, each tasked with a starkly different mission. Patent law rewards novel ideas; tort law deters harmful conduct. Against this backdrop, this Essay uncovers the opposing effects of patent and tort law on innovation, introducing the "injurer-innovator problem." Patent law incentivizes injurers --often uniquely positioned to make technological breakthroughs--by allowing them to profit from licensing their inventions to competitors. Yet tort law, by imposing liability for failures to invest in care, forces injurers to incur the cost of implementing their own innovations. When the cost of self-implementation exceeds the revenues that may be reaped from patenting new technologies, injurers are better off refraining from developing socially desirable inventions. The injurer-innovator problem remarkably persists under both negligence and strict liability regimes, and in the face of different victim types. Multiple real-world examples demonstrate the extent and pervasiveness of this phenomenon.

To realign the incentives provided by the patent and tort systems, this Essay proposes a new legal construct: anti-patents. While a standard patent grants an inventor the exclusive right to use its invention, an anti-patent creates the converse exclusivity regime: the inventor, and only the inventor, is not required to use the invention. Importantly, anti-patents retain the existing patent protection, allowing injurer-innovators to charge monopolistic prices from competitors but simultaneously eliminating the obstacle created by tort law. An injurer-innovator who owns an anti-patent will enjoy immunity from the heightened standard of care to which the rest of the industry would now be subject. The Essay further shows that the anti-patent mechanism not only succeeds at harmonizing patent and tort law toward the advancement of technological progress but also outperforms alternative schemes employed to stimulate innovation (i.e., prizes, grants, and tax benefits). Finally, it ties the logic that underlies anti-patents to existing doctrines designated to elicit the disclosure of private information.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Patents, Torts, Liability (Law), Technological innovations