Connect the Dots: Patents and Interdisciplinarity
This Article unravels a troubling paradox in the ecosystem of innovation. Interdisciplinarity is widely recognized as a source of valuable innovation and a trigger for technological breakthroughs. Yet, patent law, a principal legal tool for promoting innovation, fails to acknowledge it in an explicit, consistent manner. Moreover, although the scientific understanding of the significance of interdisciplinarity for innovation increasingly relies on big data analyses of patent databases, patent law practically ignores patent data as a source of information about interdisciplinary innovation. This Article argues that patent law should connect the dots—explicitly recognize interdisciplinarity as a positive indication when deciding whether an invention deserves patent protection and use information derived from patent databases to evaluate the interdisciplinarity of inventions. Relying on cutting edge research in economics and network-science, this Article explores nuanced manners for implementing these proposals, calling, ultimately, for the development of an algorithmic “recombination metric” that would allow courts and patent offices to identify interdisciplinary inventions in an accessible, standardized manner.
The adoption of this Article’s proposals would align patent doctrine with its ultimate goal of promoting high-risk, socially valuable, innovation; inject an objective and measurable criterion into various patent doctrines famously criticized for their ambiguity and unpredictability; and allow patent law to realize some of the enormous potential of patent data—a treasure that current patent doctrine leaves untapped.