38 J. Pat. Off. Soc'y 839 (1956)
Why a Seventeen Year Patent

handle is hein.journals/jpatos38 and id is 865 raw text is: December, 1956, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 12

Why a Seventeen Year Patent?
By C. MICHAEL WHITE, Ph.D.*
We have lengthened life expectancy, lowered the voting
age, increased the horsepower and speed of our automo-
biles, shortened the Moscow to New York flying time; but
the American patent system retains the same 17 years'
length it has had for nearly a hundred years.
Why a 17 year patent? Does 17 have some magic efficacy
in promoting inventions which all other numbers lack?
One would think so to hear the support given to the 17-
year grant whenever the question of patent life is raised.
It may well be that patents of the present length are
ideal. It may be that either a longer or a shorter statutory
patent life would be less conducive to inventive effort.
If this be true, it should be possible to make a rather con-
clusive case in support of this characteristic of our patent
system. But whether such a case can be made or not, the
need for an objective valuation of patent life is acute.
It is hoped that the following discussion will suggest such
a basis.
Curiously enough, all countries which have patent sys-
tems limit the duration of their grants to something less
than perpetuity. If each patent is expected to end at some
time, then it is implied that the first part of its useful life
is reserved for the exclusive use of the inventor while the
remainder belongs to the public. This sharing of the use-
ful life of patentable inventions necessitates a satisfactory
basis of division-how much should the inventor have and
how much should the public have ? It is generally agreed
that neither the inventor nor the public has a right to the
entire life of an invention. However, it is equally true that
both participants to the patent contract have a claim to
some part of the value created by the invention.
In its simplest form, the patent transaction between an
inventor and the state represents an exchange of a bundle
of temporary exclusive rights from the state for an in-
* Professor of Economics, Huntingdon College, Montgomery, Alabama.

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