How Do Inventors Respond to Financial Incentives? Evidence from Unanticipated Court Decisions on Employees’ Inventions in Japan

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We use a novel panel data set of corporate inventors matched with their employers in Japan to examine the effects of output-based financial incentives on corporate inventors’ performance. We exploit heterogeneous industry responses to Japanese court decisions that forced Japanese firms to introduce stronger incentives. We show, first, that only industries facing a high risk of employee-inventor lawsuits adopted or significantly strengthened financial incentives based on the commercial success of inventions in response to the court decisions. Our estimations reveal that stronger financial incentives in such industries reduced the number of highly cited patents and significantly decreased the incidence of science-based patents after technology-specific year effects are controlled for. These results show that the compulsion to remunerate employee-inventors on the basis of the commercial success of their inventions could distort the efficiency of corporate research and development and illustrate the importance of contracting freedom.

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