As we have emphasized throughout this COVID-19 blog post series, even though patent law historically has been the primary field in which legal scholars consider questions of innovation policy, governments use a wide variety of policies to incentivize and allocate access to new innovations. One of the key dimensions for comparing these different policies is when the incentive occurs. Under ex ante or “push” policies such as grants or R&D tax incentives, innovators receive funding early in the research process, before the results are known; for ex post or “pull” policies such as patents or prizes, only successful projects receive a reward.
In a recent talk for the Iowa Innovation, Business & Law Center’s speaker series on COVID-19 innovation policy, one of us (RS) explained why pull mechanisms are very effective innovation policy levers to achieve the kind of clear technological goals presented by the pandemic. Here, we will unpack these ideas and explain how lawmakers should be adjusting these policies to bring this crisis to a more rapid close.