Speed is often critical for successful commercialization of a new technology, and patents help entrepreneurs secure funding, enter the market, and avoid expropriation of their ideas. In this article, we employ a recent change to U.S. patent law—the introduction of an elective program accelerating patent examination—to investigate the role of patent examination speed in strategic entrepreneurship. We find that small firms with limited patent portfolios are the most likely to expedite their patent applications. Moreover, accelerated patents are cited and litigated at higher rates than other patents, and these outcomes are more sensitive to exogenous changes to patent scope. Our results suggest that providing the option to accelerate patent examination may help increase incentives for innovation by strategic entrepreneurs.
Patents are essential to high‐tech businesses, helping them to secure funding and exclude competitors from the marketplace. We evaluate a USPTO pilot program that allowed patent applicants to accelerate patent examination, yielding a patent in less than 1 year when typically 3 or more years are required. We find that entrepreneurs are more likely to use the program than large firms. Moreover, patents examined under the program tend to be strategically important. They are litigated and cited at higher rates than other patents, and the scope of the patents’ claims plays a key role in these outcomes. Collectively our results suggest that multi‐track patent examination programs are likely to have a positive effect on generating new ideas, increasing value capture for entrepreneurs, and facilitating the growth of small businesses. Our results also suggest that the USPTO has implemented the program successfully by accelerating examination without sacrificing quality.