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Suzanne Scotchmer


Suzanne Scotchmer

Professor of Economics, Law, and Public Policy

UC Berkeley

1950 - 2014


Suzanne Scotchmer passed away following a sudden illness in the prime of her career. Suzanne’s appointments in the Departments of Economics, Public Policy, and Law spoke to her tremendous intellectual and analytical breadth as well as her passion for confronting salient public issues from multiple angles. She attained the highest levels of accomplishment in multiple disciplines and scholarly communities. She participated equally comfortably in theoretical social science conferences and applied public policy symposia. Her enthusiasm for creative ideas was infectious to students and colleagues alike. She made lasting contributions across a broad range of disciplines – intellectual property and incentives for research and development, club theory, and evolutionary game theory. She championed analytical rigor, intellectual honesty, and tough-minded thinking about public policy.


Suzanne’s probing intellect and fearless penchant for new challenges emerged from an unusual life journey. Raised in Pelican, on Chichagof Island, a town with a population of 130 in rural Alaska, Suzanne went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts (magna cum laude) at the University of Washington and a Masters of Arts in Statistics and Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley. Following graduate school, she joined the Department of Economics at Harvard University before returning to the University of California at Berkeley. She was appointed to the Department of Public Policy in 1986. She joined the Department of Economics in 1995 and the Law School in 2008.


Henry Brady, Dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy School at Berkeley, captured the essence of Suzanne’s distinctive intellectual approach: “She had the gift of being able to get at the fundamental issues in any area she studied, and she constructed elegant and parsimonious models that shed light on the mechanisms at work in these areas. Her intellect was deep and profound.”


Suzanne followed wherever her intellectual curiosity took her, and this led her to make influential contributions across an unusually diverse range of fields. But her modesty was so pronounced that specialists in each field even now rarely appreciate her stature and contributions in the others. Suzanne made very important, and in some cases seminal, contributions to the subfields of intellectual property and cumulative innovation; alternatives to intellectual property to promote innovation; patent licensing and remedies; economics of digital markets; and game and club theory.


Suzanne was known far and wide for her piercing intellect. She held teaching or visiting appointments at many distinguished institutions, including Harvard, UCLA, New School of Economics, Stockholm School of Economics, University of Auckland, Tel Aviv University, and University of Paris (Sorbonne). She also held research fellowships at Yale and Stanford and was a visiting scholar in ten different countries, from Israel to Finland, and from Moscow to Florence. In addition, she also served as a Scholar in Residence at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. She was a Principal Investigator on many NSF grants over the years.


The breadth and influence of Suzanne’s work is reflected in the range of topics on which she wrote as well as her selection to write chapters for the leading handbook Innovation and Incentives (MIT Press, 2004) which drew acclaim from economists and lawyers alike. Noted legal theorist and law and economics pioneer Richard Posner, now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit called the book a “rigorous and lucid synthesis of the economics of innovation and the law of intellectual property” that was “packed with useful information, penetrating critique, and concrete, practical, and important proposals for legal reform.” Renowned game theorist Jean Tirole called it “required reading for all students, researchers and policymakers interested in the economics of innovation and innovation policy.” The book also showed her singular achievement in using the techniques of economics to clarify legal thinking and reasoning. At the same time, her work provided guidance for designing better public policies for regulating intellectual property and research and development.


In 2013, the University of Washington honored Professor Scotchmer at its economics graduation ceremony with the department’s annual Distinguished Alumnus Award.


Joshua Gans, an economist and professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, called Scotchmer “one of the most significant figures in applied economic theory over the past few decades.” Gans credited her for helping scholars see innovation not as a once-off event, but as a cumulative event where innovations combine with one another to become a ladder of increasing improvements.


Suzanne was well-known for her passionate commitment to research and theory not only among internationally acclaimed scholars but also among younger scholars, post-docs, graduate students and undergraduates. She paid little attention to academic hierarchies, and was as happy in an animated discussion with an enthusiastic neophyte as with a Nobel laureate. Her love of ideas was evident to all, and infected many of those who were fortunate enough to engage her over the years.


Suzanne was fiercely committed to UC Berkeley and the values for which it stands. She turned down a number of offers to leave for other prestigious institutions over the years. And she was a devoted colleague and friend to many Berkeley faculty members across a wide range of disciplines. She also served on UC Berkeley campuswide committees, including the Budget Committee, Library Committee and CAPRA (Committee on Academic Planning and Resource Allocation).


We have lost a great and distinguished scholar, and we will miss her extraordinary commitment to intellectual integrity and to the mission of her departments and our university. We will also miss her warmth, heartfelt friendship, and wry smile. We will always remember that she was as generous with a good laugh as with her many sparkling ideas. Her longtime partner Stephen Maurer, Adjunct Professor of Public Policy at Berkeley, captured Suzanne’s enduring quality succinctly: "While Suzanne had many gifts, one of the most important was her ability to focus her extraordinary energy on what mattered -- Whether it was the next big research problem, a colleague's work, or the people she cared about. Or what the University of California was and could and should be. Her contributions and example are with us still. As WB Yeats said: ‘We have given the world our passion/We have naught for death but toys.’”


Peter S. Menell

Robert P. Merges