This article develops a methodology to compare the quality of examination services in three major patent systems. Quality is defined as the extent to which patent systems comply with the patentability conditions in a transparent way. The methodology consists of a two-layer analytical framework encompassing "legal standards" (LS) and their "operational design" (OD) which includes several interdependent components that affect the stringency and transparency of the filtering process. The comparison of patent systems in Europe, Japan, and the United States shows that their operational designs differ substantially: the European system provides higher-quality and more expensive examination services than the United States one, while the Japanese Patent system is in an intermediate position. The results illustrate that different system designs lead to different outcomes in terms of backlogs, patent propensity, and the number of dubious patent rights in force. In this respect, these findings (i) provide an empirical validation of the conjecture of a vicious cycle linking the quality of examination and demand for patents and (ii) highlight the need for a multifaceted convergence of patent systems before mutual recognition is put in place. Copyright 2011 The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Associazione ICC. All rights reserved., Oxford University Press.
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