Obituary - Suzanne Scotchmer

February 20, 2014

A theoretical  economist whose pioneering analyses of “clubs”, patents, incentives and innovation provided important insights to lawyers and policymakers has died.

Suzanne Scotchmer was born on 23 January 1950 in Alaska and studied economics at the University of Washington (1970) before continuing her education at the University of California, Berkeley, with an MA in statistics (1979) and a PhD in economics (1980). She began her working life at Harvard University as an assistant professor (1981-85) and then an associate professor (1985-86) of economics before returning to Berkeley for the rest of her career.

Although initially appointed to Berkeley’s School of Public Policy faculty, Professor Scotchmer later became both a professor of economics (1995) and a professor of law (2008). She also served as a consultant to the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division and held visiting positions at a number of international institutions, including the Stockholm School of Economics, the University of Auckland and the University of Paris (Sorbonne).

Professor Scotchmer drew on evolutionary game theory in her examination of attitudes to risk and their role in driving innovation. She also made a major contribution to club theory, which looks at what happens to goods and services when they are jointly owned by members of a “club” such as a group of local citizens. A celebrated 1991 paper, “Standing on the shoulders of giants”, offered the first rigorous analysis of how rewards should be distributed when a number of investors develop a new technology.  

In Innovation and Incentives (2004) she addressed the larger topic of “how institutions create incentives to encourage research” with a view to answering a highly practical question: “What should those institutions look like?”

Among other topics, the book considered “the patenting of genetic sequences, business methods, and computer software; the difficulty in enforcing copyrights in the digital age; the role of technical protection systems; and the antitrust and innovation issues that surround network industries”.

“Suzanne was particularly inspirational as one of very few women writing in the field of theoretical economics,” said Gillian Lester, dean of Berkeley’s School of Law. “Friends, colleagues and students across the campus and across her disciplines shared a deep appreciation for her tirelessly creative mind, enthusiasm for intellectual engagement at the highest level, and preternatural ability to see to the heart of a complex problem immediately and describe it with clarity and insight.”

Professor Scotchmer died of intestinal cancer on 30 January and is survived by her partner, Stephen Maurer.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

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