Searle Center Receives $2 Million from Qualcomm for Patent Research

August 26, 2013

Wireless technologies company Qualcomm Incorporated has given the Searle Center on Law, Regulation, and Economic Growth at Northwestern University Law School $2 million to fund research that will investigate the role of patents in incentivizing technological innovation. 

“Technology is evolving in an increasingly complex legal environment,” said Matt Spitzer, Director of the Searle Center and the Howard and Elizabeth Chapman Professor. “Critics claim that patents may, in some cases, limit technological advancement. There is a lot of discussion about ‘patent thickets’, ‘hold-up’ and ‘royalty stacking,’ and how these constructs could hinder innovation, but there is surprisingly little actual data out there. Our project will create the needed data sets and allow the critics’ claims to be tested.” 

Qualcomm’s generosity will create the Project on Innovation Economics at the Searle Center. There are many well-known economists and lawyers currently working in this area, but this initiative will expand and enrich work currently underway—to better explain how inventive activity occurs and is commercialized. Professor Dan Spulber of the Kellogg School will serve as the Academic Director for this project. 

The grant will make it possible for the Searle Center to create a series of related databases to collate information regarding the standards, licensing, litigation, and markets for patents. Scholars will be able to use these data to understand how inventive activity occurs, how it is commercialized, and what might be done to facilitate future innovation. The grant also funds a series of conferences and roundtables to examine and improve research in the field. Additionally, Professor Spulber will edit an annual special issue of the Journal of Economics & Management Science to disseminate the results of new research in this area. As a whole, these elements will generate new insights and pave the way for an understanding of the important roles that patents and other types of intellectual property play in innovation. 

Founded in 1985, Qualcomm is one of the largest wireless technology companies in the world, producing the semiconductors, chipsets, and software that powers most of the 3G devices available today. 

“Understanding the role intellectual property law has in facilitating—or, as some might argue, hindering—technological innovation is crucial to future commercialization efforts,” said Daniel B. Rodriguez, Dean and Harold Washington Professor at the School of Law. “Qualcomm is a visionary company and we are looking forward to a fruitful and productive partnership.”