I'm intrigued by the way crowdsourced funding is upsetting the balance of power in financing new films, and companies. The basic trend is toward less and less friction (or what Coase calls "transaction costs") in obtaining financing. At the limit, we have perfectly efficient financing in which ideas receive funding up to the opportunity cost of capital (i.e., up to the next best startup or film that could have been funded). Five years ago, things looked grim thanks to the costs of SOX and the resulting shift of new listings overseas. Technology to the rescue! Gives warm fuzzies to those who tend to be more pessimistic.
But is there less friction for inventors and patentees? Maybe a little, but not the dramatic shift we've seen in private equity financing. And why not? Here things get murky. Looking at equity financing, we can see that at least part of the reason crowdsourced financing has taken off is because of the new "exit" opportunities it offers. At least in relative terms, people prefer what they get from contributing on kickstarter to watching their money go down the tubes in a Facebook IPO. Are there new exit opportunities for inventors and patentees? Nope. It's the same exit opportunities that have always been there. So is there less friction? Maybe a little less. But without the new exit opportunities, it's unclear whether what appears to be reduced friction for inventors and patentees is, in fact, improved allocative efficiency, or whether instead it's an opportunistic redistribution of wealth. We shall see.
Regardless, it's worth asking: if we could dramatically reduce the friction for inventors and patentees, would the public at large view the patent system as more effective or less effective at its goal of promoting innovation? The answer, I think, depends not on whether friction is reduced, but how. It seems to me that there is simply no (lasting) benefit to any stakeholder in the patent system to reducing the friction in reallocations of ownership until the friction in exits can be reduced even further. Universities avoid the problem by limiting the intake to their pipeline, which is wiser than clogging it up with inventory that goes stale. What's the new exit? That's the billion dollar question to be answered by anybody with an interest in seeing the patent system evolve.