Why don't inventors patent?

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Citation: Petra Moser Why don't inventors patent?.
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Why don't inventors patent?
Download: http://www.nber.org/papers/w13294
Tagged: patents (RSS), economics (RSS), innovations (RSS), inventions (RSS)


Note: this summarizes an August 2007 working paper version, not the later published version.

The paper examines a new data set of >7000 American and British innovations shown at four World's Fairs between 1851 and 1915, and analyzes which of these innovations were patented.

  • The industry to which the innovation/exhibition applied was a strong predictor.
  • Urban inventors were slightly more likely to patent
  • High "quality" innovations were slightly more likely to be patented
  • Low costs of patenting weakly encouraged patenting

The paper shows, further, that chemical innovations were more likely to be patented in the period after 1869 when the periodic table was introduced, whereas other categories of innovations were generally not more likely to be patented after 1869 than before.

The author infers that as chemical analysis became easier, and therefore duplication or reverse engineering of an innovation became easier, inventors were more likely to seek out protection through intellectual property.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

This paper gives clear quantitative evidence that when it is harder to prevent the duplication of inventions, inventors are more likely to patent them. Inventors switch to intellectual property as it gets harder to depend on secrecy and/or it becomes easier for others to reverse engineer or otherwise replicate the invention.