State of Innovation

Patents and Innovation Economics

George Will: US Suffering From Innovation Dearth

In a January 2, 2011 column (Needed: A science stimulus) in the Washington Post, George Will points out that the US is suffering from a lack of innovation.  He makes a token node to the patent system in the article and then he focuses on government spending on science and engineering and does not mention the patent office is underfunded.  George reflects Washingtons and the elitists attitude that government spending is what drives the economy.  He just believes government spending should be directed to science.  In addition, he repeats the elitist comment that most of the science is done by the elite and us peasants don’t really contribute much.

The late Nobel laureate Julius Axelrod said, “Ninety-nine percent of the discoveries are made by 1 percent of the scientists.”

This elitist attitude contradicts all the available evidence.  As the book, The Most Powerful Idea in the World, discussed in Georges’ article points out, sustained economic growth does not happen until property rights for ideas (patents) are enacted.  This releases a flood of inventions, not by the elite, but by ordinary citizens.  It was the democratization of the inventing process that lifted the masses out of the Malthusian Trap.


January 14, 2011 - Posted by dbhalling | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

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  1. DB,

    That link I sent you re Tainter’s theories explains why investments in science and technology ultimately collapse and the machine fails to deliver a continuing stream of innovation.

    (Basically, after the low hanging fruit are picked off, it takes exponentially larger sums of money and work to deliver the next big thing. There comes a point on the exponential growth curve where a society can no longer afford it. For example, ask yourself why the USA did not build the Large Hadron Collider. Answer: We couldn’t afford it.)

    Comment by step back | January 16, 2011 | Reply

  2. Stepback, I pointed out to you that Tainter’s ideas are flawed. If they were true humans would have peaked years ago. Tainter’s ideas are not new and they rely on the idea that there is a limit to human knowledge and technology – there is no evidence for this. It is true that within a very narrow area of technology, diminishing returns apply. For instance, in the narrow area of vacuum tube based computation the technology did reach diminishing returns. However it was replaced with transistor based computers and then this was replaced with integrated circuit based computers. For more information see Singularity by Ray Kurzweil. New areas of technology replace those that are reaching diminishing returns.

    Comment by dbhalling | January 17, 2011 | Reply

    • DB, this is one area we will simply have to agree to disagree on.

      If I could pick the answer I “like”, I would pick your answer as the one I would like to be true.

      However, it is not a believable answer. The technological singularity is not just one more spin away on the GE Carousel of Progress (see 1965 World’s Fair). Regrettably, it is a receding horizon that we will never reach.

      Comment by step back | January 17, 2011 | Reply

  3. By all accounts, you’re right about the USPTO being underfunded; the crippling effect that this has had on the economy should not be underestimated. Word is that certain members of Congress are murmuring about patent reform this year (as always). I would be satisfied at this point if Congress could find the wherewithal to pass even a “stripped-down” patent reform bill whose sole provision was to end fee diversion. Merely ending fee diversion in 2011 would be a huge accomplishment; can we make it a New Year’s resolution?

    Comment by patent litigation | January 17, 2011 | Reply

    • Stopping fee diversion would be great. My idea of real patent reform has nothing to do with what has been discussed the last 4-5 years.

      Comment by dbhalling | January 17, 2011 | Reply

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