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Invention – A Financial Analysis

Jacob Schmookler, an economist and author of Invention and Economic Growth, developed a financial analysis of the invention process.[1] The main point of this mathematical modeling of the invention process was to show that the probability of any invention being created is related to the size of the market for the invention.  I intend to present a model of the cost of inventing compared to creating me-too products.  I am not a fan of mathematical models for explaining most economic effects, because the terms in the equation are either unmeasurable or vary in an unpredictable manner.  As a result, I think these mathematical models give the impression of the accuracy of a physical science, which they clearly do not provide.  This can lead to logical errors.[2]

Despite this, I believe a simple mathematical model of the invention process will illustrate some important points.  In addition, some people understand concepts better when presented in a mathematical model.  Here is my model for the costs associated with introducing a new product based on an invention and me-too product:

Ci(n) = (Inv + Mi)/P + NRE + PC*n + OH*n   (New Product based on invention)

Cmt(n) = NRE + PC*n + OH*n  (Me-too product)

Where Ci is the cost of creating a product for the owner of the invention, Inv is the cost of creating the invention, P is probability of that the invention will succeed in the market, Mi is the incremental marketing and sales cost of introducing a new invention, n is the number of products that have been produced, NRE is the nonrecurring engineering cost of setting up production, PC is the production cost of the making n products and OH is the cost of overhead for producing n products, Cmt is the cost of creating a me-too product.

The reason I add the probability that the invention (P) will succeed is that not all inventions are successful.  An economist who wants to capture all the costs associated with introducing a product based on a new invention has to include this probability to determine the true cost of inventing.  This probability will vary based on the type of invention.  For instance, line extension inventions are much more likely to succeed than inventions that create whole new markets.  An example of an invention that created a new market was Webcrawler, which was the first full text web indexing search engine introduced in 1994.  On the other hand adding image or video searching to Google is a line extension.

The cost for marketing and selling a product based on an invention (Mi) is separate from the cost of marketing and selling a me-too product.  It takes significantly more money, time, and effort to sell a product based on an invention that is creating a whole new market than a me-too product.  Any sales person who has tried to sell a truly unique product knows that it is much easier to sell an existing product or a me-too product because you do not have to explain the value of the product, how the product works, and why the customer would want the product.  A true me-too product can be sold mainly on price.  A line extension product takes less marketing and sales effort than a revolution product.  Large companies tend to focus on line extension inventions because it reduces the risk that the product will not succeed and reduces the cost of marketing and selling.  Many start-ups sell through marketing channels in order to reduce this cost.

I include the cost of selling, advertising, and marketing of me-too product in overhead.  Once a product based on an invention is well known, then it will incur the same cost as a me-too product of selling, advertising, and marketing.  I believe this is an accurate characterization.  Non-recurring engineering (NRE) is the same for both the me-too product company and the inventor company.  The reason for this is that me-too products will incur approximately the same cost of setting up production as the owner of the invention.

The values of these variables will vary based on the type of invention involved, the type of market in which the invention is sold, and the point in time the product is introduced.  This model is not exact.  For instance, overhead (OH), production costs (PC), and marketing cost of the invention (Mi) should all be functions of the number of products sold (n).  Production costs usually decrease with the number of products sold.  Marketing costs of the invention (Mi) should be spread out of the first X number of products sold.  In addition, the total marketing cost of the invention (Mi) should not be included for failed products based on an invention, since the owner is likely to kill the project earlier and not spend as much as on a successful product launch.  There are probably other shortcomings of these equations.  However, certain facts are clear even with any flaws in these equations.  The cost of inventing increases the cost to the inventing firm over the me-too firm.  As a result, inventing is a market disadvantage without intellectual property.

Invention Law:  The cost of inventing increasing the expenses of the inventing firm compared to the expenses of the me-too firm.

There are only two common ways to compensate or incentivize inventors.  One is to provide the inventor with a property right (patent) in their invention.  The other is to have the government pay for the cost of inventing.  The first is consistent with a free market economy and has proven to be extremely successful.  The second is consistent with a command and control economy (statism) and has proven to be inefficient and political.

Intellectual Property Law: Inventing is a market disadvantage without intellectual property.

Now I will look at some specific scenarios to provide some insight to these laws.

Pessimistic Scenario

Scenario 1:

Consumer good sold through retail outlet

Inventing = New Market

Target Retail Price $10.00

Cost of inventing (Inv) = $100,000.00

Cost of Marketing Invention (Mi) = $900,000.00

Probability of Success (Pi) = 0.1

Nonrecurring Engineering (NRE) = $30,000.00

Production Costs per Unit (PC) = $2.00

Overhead Costs per Unit (OH) = $1.20

Unit Inventor’s cost per unit Copier’s cost per unit
1 10030003 30003.2
10 1003003 3003.2
100 100303.2 303.2
1000 10033.2 33.2
10000 1006.2 6.2
100000 103.5 3.5
1000000 13.23 3.23
10000000 4.203 3.203
100,000,000 3.3003 3.2003

It is assumed the manufacturers are selling their products $4.00, which is a standard double over manufacturing costs.  The 1/5th of retail price is a minimum necessary for the manufacturer to obtain a return that justifies manufacturing the product and selling it through a standard retail channel.  As you can see the inventor has to sell 100 million units ($1B in revenue) in order to get within 10 cents of the same manufacturing cost as the me-too manufacturer.  The copier’s break even[3] point is somewhere between 10 thousand units and 100 thousand units while the inventor’s break even is point is over 100 times as many units.

It is likely that this scenario overstates the difference between the costs of the inventor and the copier.  For instance, the inventor is unlikely to spend the full cost of marketing the invention (Mi) for the other nine failed product.  In addition, the percentage of successfully launched products is based on the stated success rate of venture capitalists.  Most VCs state that they have one highly successful company for every ten investments.  They also usually have 2-3 other companies in the portfolio that produce moderate returns or losses.  Not all of the other companies are in their portfolio are a complete loss.

Optimistic Scenario

Let’s look at a much more optimistic scenario.  Let assume the probability of success (P) includes these moderately successful investments and lets also include the idea that the probability includes some line extensions which have a 70% probability of success or higher.  We will also move up the probability of success to compensate for the fact that the inventor is unlikely to spend the full cost of marketing the invention (Mi) on failed inventions.  I will make the wild guess that setting the probability to 45% will compensate these differences.  I will also assume that instead of taking $1M to launch a new invention that it takes only $100 thousand.  Part of the justification for this difference is that the inventor and other founders are likely to not take a salary until the company has significant revenues.  I will also lower the overhead significantly, because this is one of the big advantages of a start-up.  My optimist scenario is:

Scenario 2:

Consumer good sold through retail outlet

Inventing = New Market

Target Retail Price $10.00

Cost of inventing (Inv) = $10,000.00

Cost of Marketing Invention (Mi) = $90,000.00

Probability of Success (Pi) = 0.45

Nonrecurring Engineering (NRE) = $30,000.00

Production Costs per Unit (PC) = $2.00

Overhead Costs per Unit (OH) = $0.50

Unit Inventor’s cost per unit Copier’s cost per unit
1 252224.7 30002.5
10 25224.72 3002.5
100 2524.722 302.5
1000 254.7222 32.5
10000 27.72222 5.5
100000 5.022222 2.8
1000000 2.752222 2.53
10000000 2.525222 2.50

In this scenario, the break even point for the copier is between 1000 and 10,000 units, while the break even point for the inventor just over 100,000 units.  The inventor is still at a significant disadvantage to the copier.  Some of this disadvantage may be offset by the first mover advantage.  However, if the inventor company is a start-up its first mover advantage is likely to be significantly offset by the established relationships of an established copier company.  In addition, the inventing company may sell more of their initial units directly (not through a retail channel) and their margins will be significantly higher for these units.

It is clear that inventing without intellectual property is a competitive disadvantage.  Large companies that invent can offset some of this disadvantage by using other competitive barriers to entry.  For instance, an established company can use its network of relationships to create a barrier to entry from start-up copier companies and may be able to use its relationships to provide some barrier to entry from other large established companies.  The empirical evidence is that established companies mainly produce incremental inventions.  This is because the invention process is risky and as an established company they often have less risky methods of providing incremental revenue or profit gains.

Start-up companies produce all the net jobs in America according to the Kauffman Foundation.   They are also the biggest producer of emerging technologies – see Do Individual Inventors and Start-ups Invent Anything Important?.  Advances in technology are the only way to increase our real per capita income.  We need to encourage investments in inventions, if we want to leave our children a better world than the one we live in.  Technology start-ups need the incentive of property rights in their inventions (patents) in order to justify the investment in these companies.


[1] Schmookler, Jacob, Invention and Economic Growth, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1966, pp 113-115.

[2] For instance, the measurement of GDP is said to be consumer spending plus investment plus government spending plus exports minus imports.  This equation leads to the logical error of assuming that consumer spending and government spending results in an increase in the output of a nation.  The reason this is a logical error is that people confuse the cause with the effect.  Consumption does not create goods and services.  Production creates goods and services, which is related to the consumption of good and services.  An engineering analogy is that temperature is often measured by determining a change in the resistance of a resistor.  If I change the resistance being measured by adding resistor in series with the thermistor this does not change the temperature of the environment being measured.  This is what economists are arguing when they suggest that increased government spending will cause the economy to grow.  Government spending does not create any new goods and services; it just either consumes production or transfers the return for production from one person to another.  Similarly, consumer spending is a way of measuring production.  Artificially increasing consumer spending does not increase production.  For instance, giving people income tax rebates when they never paid any income tax does not increase production, it just steals the productive effort of those who do pay taxes.

[3] The break even point is when the cost per unit is equal to the sales price per unit.

 
Are Patents Relevant?

The more fundamental question in economics is whether inventions have any economic impact.  There is no role for inventions in classical economics[1], which focuses mainly on disruptions in supply and demand.  Marxist believe that all economic value is a measure of physical labor, so there is no room in the Marxist tent for inventions either.  Despite this modern economics has grudgingly admitted that inventions are key factor in economic growth.  However, they are torn on whether inventions (advances in technology) are endogenous or exogenous.  The exogenous camp believes that inventions occur separate from any incentives or spending on inventions.  Economists that fall into the exogenous camp clearly do not see any reason for a patent system, since they believe that inventions occur separate from any market forces.

The first widely acknowledged chink in the Marxist and Classical economics armor against inventions was Joseph Schumpeter who argued that creative destruction, caused by innovation, is the key to economic growth.  The hero in Schumpeter’s world was the entrepreneur not the inventor.  Despite this Schumpeter also was a determinist who believed in “natural” cycles and believed in the exogenous theory of inventions.

The next step in the economic analysis of invention was by Robert Solow.  Dr Solow published a paper in 1956 on economic growth that stated that four fifths of US worker output was due to technological progress (inventions).[2] Robert Solow would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Economics for this point.  However, Solow believed that technological progress was exogenous and therefore occurred separate from economic incentives to invent.  As a result, he argued that all countries would converge in their economic growth rates and their level of technology.  There has been no evidence for Solow exogenous theory of growth.[3] The growth and level of technology, inventions, and economic growth of countries has not converged as Solow predicted.  It is not surprising that Solow, in the exogenous camp, is a fan of the anti-patent book Against Intellectual Monopoly, by Michele Boldrin & David K. Levine.[4]

The next big advance in the analysis of inventions and economic progress was the book Invention and Economic Growth by Jacob Schmookler in 1966.  Schmookler undertook the most systematic analysis of invention of any economist.  He analyzes the issue of whether invention is exogenous, as argued by Solow, or endogenous.  He clearly shows that invention is mainly endogenous.  Schmookler does not directly address the question of the utility of a patent system in encouraging inventions.  However, he hints that attacks on the patent system in the 1930s and 40s was the cause for the decline in the number of patents issued to US inventors during this time.

In general, most economists in this area now acknowledge that invention is endogenous – subject to market forces.  If you accept that the invention process is endogenous, then the next question is whether patents encourage invention – are patents relevant?

One of the leading economists in the area endogenous growth is Paul Romer.  Romer thinks that the creation of inventions (he would call them recipes) are clearly subject to resource limitation.  He points out that researchers and laboratory equipment are not free and therefore we need a system to encourage people to invest in new inventions.  However, he believes that once an invention is created it cost virtually nothing to disseminate.  The example he uses is oral rehydration therapy.  While there are a small number of examples of inventions that are so simple and so easy to understand they can be disseminated at virtually no cost, most new inventions and technology do not fit into this category.  For instance, calculus is a very useful branch of mathematics and it has been known for centuries and yet most of us who learned calculus paid someone to teach us.  There were no intellectual property laws requiring us to pay a teacher to learn calculus, so if inventions (recipes) can be spread at no cost why did we undertake the irrational step of paying someone to learn calculus.  If technological can be disseminated at no cost then there is no reason for professors, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and especially marketers and sale people.  Romer is ambivalent about patents.  However, his ambivalence is based on the false assumption that technology dissemination is free.

Gregory Clark, an economist at UC Davis,  has written an interesting book in this area, entitled A Farewell to Alms.  In this book he states that the most important question in economics is explaining why

after millennia of per capita income being stagnant it takes off around 1800 in the West.  He provides an interesting answer.  The first part of his answer is that rate of technological progress increased at the beginning of the industrial revolution.  The second part of the answer is why the rate of technological progress suddenly increased.  He suggests that the industrial revolution takes of in Britain because of environmentally induced evolution.  Specifically, he suggests that the downwardly mobile society of Britain resulted in thrift and hard work being genetically selected in Britain.  These traits resulted in the industrial revolution taking off in Britain.  Clark appears to be part of the exogenous camp.  As a result, he does not think that patents are important in encouraging advances in technology or economic progress.

B Zorina Khan is another economist who has studied this issue.  She is author of the book, The Democratization of Invention: Patents and Copyrights in American Economic Development, 1790-1920.  She provides extensive evidence that the US patent system and economic forces affect both the level and direction of invention.  She shows that the US created the first modern patent system and the patent system provides the major incentive that causes the US to grow from an agrarian economy to a world economic and technology power in 70 years.

The economic literature on patents is littered with misunderstandings of the basic rules of the US patent system.  For instance, many economists do not understand that the patent system is designed to spread information.  In the US we did this by setting up patent depository libraries, so that all people could take advantage of the knowledge associated with an invention.  You will read many economists that believe patents inhibit the spread of information.  This is clearly incorrect.  They do inhibit practicing of the invention without the payment of a royalty, but the underlying information is free for all people to learn from.

Economists are also generally ignorant of the history of patents.  They do not realize that patents are designed to encourage people to disclose the information associated with their invention.  The alternative to patents is trade secrets and no government can force people to disclose their trade secrets.  Before patents people protected their economically important inventions by keeping them a secret.  This limits the area’s where people will invest in new technologies to those that can be kept a trade secret.  It also means that the public does not benefit from the knowledge of the invention.  Most economists do not understand the unintended consequences of their anti-patent position.

Economists generally want to model patents as a government granted monopoly instead of a property right.  This is logically incorrect.  In economics, a government-granted monopoly (also called a “de jure monopoly”) is a form of coercive monopoly by which a government grants exclusive privilege to a private individual or firm to be the sole provider of a good or service.  Since a patent does not even provide the holder the right to sell or practice their invention, it clearly does not grant an exclusive privilege to a firm to be the sole provider of a good or service.  Most economists do not understand this basic principle of patent law – a patent does not give the holder the right to produce or sell their invention.

It is straightforward economic analysis that investing in new technologies is an economic disadvantage for a company if there is no intellectual property protection.  The company’s research and marketing costs in creating a new product and new market clearly increase its cost of doing business over its competitors who do not spend money on new product development.  Their competitors just copy the new product and sell it into the markets the inventor created.  The inability of economists to grasp this simple point is mind boggling.  The only explanation I can come up with is that most of the economists who write about patents have not worked in the technology start-up market.  If they had, they would know that incredible additional expenses incurred not only in creating a new product, but in marketing and selling a new product.  This is particularly true the more unique the product.  It is always easier to sell a me-too product, since you do not have to explain how it works and why someone would want it.  This is why invention in most large companies is limited to line extensions.

Economists cannot provide meaningful input or commentary on the patent system unless they actually understand the patent process, the rights obtained with a patent, and the basic history of patent systems.  Ms. Khan and Pat Choate are some of the few economists who have a strong understanding of the patent system.  Unfortunately, Khan does not differentiate that patents are property rights, not a monopoly.


[1] However Adam Smith did mention inventions as one of three ways to increase the wealth of a nation.  “some addition and improvement to those machines and instruments which facilitate and abridge labor”, Smith, Adam, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Edited by Edwin Cannan, New York, Modern Library, pp. 373-374.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Solow 8/3/10.

[3] http://www.ecomod.net/conferences/ecomod2003/ecomod2003_papers/Ulku.pdf 8/3/10.

[4] http://reason.com/archives/2003/03/01/creation-myths 8/3/10.

 
The Rational Optimist: Excellent Book, Disfigured by Open Source Utopianism

The author, Matt Ridley, has written an excellent book that is epic in the scope of issues he tackles.  The book covers why homo sapiens thrived while other members of the homo genus fail.  He shows that on average the human condition has gotten consistently better and this increase in wealth has been especially true in the last 200 years.  He destroys the noble savage myth.  He shows the intellectual failings of Marxism, environmentalism, self sufficiency, and renewable energy.  His two main themes underlying these vast topics are: 1) trade leads to division of labor, which leads to invention and 2) the inexorable march of human progress.

Despite Mr. Ridley’s incredible breadth of knowledge, there is a logical gap in his first thesis when he attempts to explain the industrial revolution and why it took off in England.  This logical gap is the result of his misunderstanding of intellectual property.

This misunderstanding of intellectual property is most likely due to his open source utopianism.  This utopianism leads the book to conclude “Thanks to the internet, each is giving according to his ability to each according to his needs, to a degree that never happen in Marxism.” P. 356.  Even with this imperfection, this is an incredible book that I highly recommend to anyone.

Population Density – Good or Bad for Wealth Creation?

The book argues that population density is necessary for trade and division of labor, which is the route to economic prosperity.  It also argues that the division of labor leads to inventions, which leads to further specialization.  Specialization requires a large enough market to support it and as a result population density is the friend of economic progress.  However, later in the book it argues that increasing population caused a decline in the living standards of Japan and Denmark.  This decline supposedly occurred because the increasing population decreased the value of labor and therefore the market for specialization and inventions.  England escapes this fate because of coal and phantom land in the colonies.  This contradiction between the need for human density for specialization and economic progress and the idea that increased population density reduced the value of labor destroying the market for inventions is not adequately resolved.

The book argues, starting on page 52, that trade is what allowed homo sapiens to succeed where other apes failed and even other humans failed such as Neanderthals.  It provides numerous examples of how various groups of humans regressed technologically because of inadequate population densities to support specialization, such as Tanzania.  The book summarizes the lessons by quoting economist Julian Simon “population leading to diminishing returns is fiction: the induced increase in productivity is scientific fact.”  P. 83.

In a chapter entitled “Escaping Malthus Trap,” Ridley discusses how Japan after a period of prosperity gives up its technology.  He states “that sometime between 1700 and 1800, the Japanese collectively gave up the plough in favour of the hoe because people were cheaper to hire than draught animals.”  P. 198.  The reason for this according to Ridley was rapid population expansion due to paddy rice technology.  This population boom made labor cheap and killed the market for technology.  Denmark follows the same path as Japan and by the 1800s becomes “trapped by its own self sufficiency.”  P. 200.  Britain escapes the Malthusian trap that Japan, Denmark, and Ireland suffer, according to Ridely, because of selective breeding (maybe p. 200), ghost acres provided by the colonies (p. 202), release valve emigration to the colonies (p. 202), and coal (sustained industrial revolution p. 216.)

There is a logical inconsistency between the conclusion early in the book that population density is necessary for prosperity, but later in the book arguing that prosperity stalled after a burst in population in various countries.  The explanation of selective breeding, does not explain why the US or Australia prospered.  These countries were heavily populated by British rejects.  Similarly, the ghost acres provided by the colonies were eventually used up.  It might be argued that there was some tipping point that could only be achieved with ghost acres.  I think this fails also, because it flies in the face of the book’s earlier argument that increased population densities allow more specialization and invention to increase everyone’s standard of living.  The release valve emigration fails for the same reasons as the ghost acres.  The emergence of coal is also unsatisfying.  Coal mining was known before the birth of Christ and trade in coal occurred in England as far back as the 1300s, according to Wikipedia.  The book also argues that many surges of economic growth were extinguished by parasitic political systems.  However, it never states this is why Japan’s and Denmark’s prosperity was reversed.

What was new in the industrial revolution was not coal, but the machines to use coal and numerous other inventions.  The book argues that these inventions were not in general due to new scientific discoveries, p. 255, and I agree.  So why at this particular point in time did we have a sudden increase in rate of technological advance, including machines that used coal?  The beginning of the industrial revolution coincides with the recognition of property right’s in inventions.  The US constitution states (Article 1, section 1, clause 8) that inventors have ‘RIGHTS” in their inventions.  Patents, which are legal title to an invention, are the only free market system for encouraging people to invent.  While Britain had a patent system at least back to the Statute of Monopolies, 1623, it did not recognize a right to property in one’s invention.  It was a royal grant, subject to the whims of the ruling monarch.  As a result, it was expensive and arbitrary.  However, when the United States recognizes that inventors have a property right to their invention, this provides a whole new incentive to inventors and their financial backers.  No doubt this attitude towards inventions also infected Britain.  For more on the correlation between real per capita increases in income and patent systems see Source of Economic Growth.

Mr. Ridley argues that patents at best have marginal effect on the rate of invention.  However, Mr. Ridley shows an appalling lack of knowledge about patents and intellectual property.  He also has a number of inconsistent statements about intellectual property.  For instance, on page 267, he states that copyrights have little effect on the creativity of musical composers.  However, on page 326 he states that Nashville was saved by music entrepreneurs using good local copyrights in the 1930s.  Not only are these two statements contradictory, there is no such thing as local copyrights in the United States.

Patents

The book has numerous other errors about intellectual property.  For instance, it states that intellectual property is not like other property, because it is useless if you keep it to yourself, p. 262.  This statement is nonsense.  The Coca Cola formula is not shared and this is the only reason it has any value.  A patent to an invention (legal title to an invention) only has value if there is some ability to exclude others from using it – as opposed to knowing about it.  If everyone can make a laser without pay royalties, then it may have value to the world but it has no differential value to the inventor.  Patents are derived from exactly the same philosophical basis as real property.  Namely,  Locke’s theory of Natural Rights.  For more information see Scarcity – Does it Prove Intellectual Property is Unjustified? Below are a list of some, but not all, of the book’s errors related to patents:

1) The book then states that people get rich by selling each other things and services not ideas, p. 263.  What are authors, professors, engineers, scientists, really selling?  Authors are not selling books, they are selling ideas that just happen to be embodied in books.  The Kindle proves this.  The Kindle does not allow the user to buy a book, but to buy the ideas in a book.  Professors are either selling the teaching of ideas or just an expensive way to bore students.  Engineers are selling a service, which encompasses ideas not the paper (digital ones and zeros) on which it is written.  Most companies do not make money manufacturing things, they make money with inventions (ideas) that are implemented in things.  When a company only sells things with no (new) ideas in these things, then their profit margins are extremely narrow.  One of the limitations on growth has been this Luddite refusal to allow inventors to specialize in inventing.  This book’s premise is built on the division of labor, but the author rejects this idea when it comes to inventing.

2) Mr. Ridley also seems to be confused between the spread of information related to inventions and the legal right to use that information to build an invention.  It is a major goal of modern patent systems to spread information about inventions so that they can be used by other people to build other inventions.  In the U.S. we built patent depository libraries to spread the wealth of information in patents (before the internet).  Patents encourage people to share the information associated with their inventions instead of keeping them a trade secret.  Countries without patent systems tend to invent mainly things that can be protected with a trade secret.  (See Switzerland before they adopt a patent system)  As a result, other inventors do not get learn from these inventions and the rate of technological progress is inhibited.

3) The book perpetuates the first mover advantage alternative to patents.  Xerox had the world’s greatest first mover advantage in plain paper copiers, when it agreed to settle an antitrust lawsuit in 1975 by giving away its patent portfolio.  Its market share went from almost 100% in plain paper copiers to 14% in just four years.  The first mover advantage is a fairy tale.

4) The book argues, p. 264, that there is no evidence that patents are what drive inventors to invent.  This statement is completely illogical.  Real property rights are not what drive farmers to farm or builders to build houses.  Nevertheless, there would be a lot less building and less efficient farming, if we did not have real property rights.  Just look at countries, where property rights in buildings and land are hard to impossible to obtain.

5) The book states that a number of inventions were never patented, p. 264, such as automatic transmission, Bakelite, ballpoint pens, cellophane, cyclotrons, gyrocompasses, jet engines, magnetic recording, power steering, safety razors and zippers.  While it is possible that the first version of some of these inventions were not patented, all of these inventions were subject to numerous patents.  This can be easily verified with a simple patent search.  For instance, there are at least 20 patents and probably hundreds of patents on automatic transmissions.  The same is true of ballpoint pens, gyrocompasses, jet engines, magnetic recording, power steering, safety razors and zippers.  A simple internet search shows that chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland (1863-1944) invented and first patented the synthetic resin that we know as Bakelite in 1907.[1] Jacques E Brandenberger was granted patents to cover the machinery and the essential ideas of his manufacturing process of the new film (cellophane).[2] The assertions of no patents for the zipper is also easily shown to be incorrect.  Elias Howe, who invented the sewing machine received a patent in 1851 for an ‘Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure’ (zipper).[3]

6) The book argues that the Wright brothers, enforcing their patent on airplane control surfaces, supposedly shut down the airplane industry in the US.  This is the typical propaganda of open source community.  First of all the Wright brothers were building airplanes, so the industry was not shut down by enforcement of the patents.  Second stealing other people’s property is not shutting down industry, it is shutting down theft.  We would not say that someone stopped the harvest of wheat, because they did not let someone else reap the wheat they planted on their land.

7) The patent thicket argument is repeated by Mr. Ridley to suggest that patents inhibit advances in technology.  A number of papers[4] have shown that there is no empirical evidence for the patent thicket argument and that the logical analogies on which it is based are flawed.  For more information see  Intellectual Property Socialism: Part IV USPTO Takes Aim at Inventors.
8) Mr. Ridley further demonstrates his ignorance of patents by repeating the concern that the US Patent Office was issuing patents for human genes in the 1990s, p. 265.  What the Patent Office did and does was issue patents on “isolated genes.”  This is similar to patents on things like isolated forms of vitamin B12, which was patented.  For more information see Gene Patenting Debate Continues.

9) The book also mistakenly calls a patent a “temporary monopoly.”  A patent is a property right, just like property rights in land, houses, cars, etc.  The logical basis for patents is exactly the same as other property rights.  Property rights are based on Natural Rights, which states that since you own yourself you own the product of your labor (physical and mental).  For more information see The Myth that Patents are Monopolies.

10) He also implies that patents are top down solution to encouraging invention.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  All a patent system does is provide property rights to inventors for their inventions.  This is similar to property rights for land, which is a bottom up way to increase the productivity of farming for instance.  Just giving pseudo property rights to peasants in the USSR and China caused enormous increases in farm production.  Property rights are a bottom up solution, not a top down solution.  In fact, the genius of the United States patent system (as opposed to Britain’s) is that it was accessible to all people, including women and slaves that had no property rights under their state laws.  This encouraged a torrent of inventive activity in the U.S. that propelled it from a backward farming country to an economic and technological powerhouse in the world in less than 60 years.  For more information see the excellent book by B. Zorina Kahn, The Democratization of Invention: Patents and Copyrights in American Economic Development, 1790-1920.

Open Source

I am convinced that Mr. Ridley’s poor research on patents and intellectual property is due to his infatuation with the open source movement.  On page 356 he opines that genetic research will soon go open source.  He is so excited about open source that he eventually suggests a Marxist’s open source utopia – “Thanks to the internet, each is giving according to his ability to each according to his needs, to a degree that never happen in Marxism.” P. 356

The open source movement has been a dismal failure.  Its biggest success has been to extend UNIX (LINUX) to personal computers, other platforms, and add new features.  Open source has mainly extended existing technologies, much like the incremental invention that can be expected from large companies.  The open source movement deludes itself into believing they are fighting some sort of David versus Goliath battle against large corporations and the patent system.  The reality is that open source developers are giving large corporations, such as IBM, their efforts for free and weakening the bargaining power of technical personnel.  The open source movement plays right into the hands of large corporations and other large institutions, by weakening the property rights of developers in their work.  It should be no surprise that open source has been an abysmal failure, since this exactly the situation most of the world lived under until 1800.  Before modern patent systems, new inventions were rare and the return for the invention was often controlled by a trade guild.  The members of the trade guild profited equally, meaning there was little incentive for the inventor to spend time creating.  Per capita income of the world before 1800 had been stagnant for millennia.  Where modern patent laws were adopted around 1800, incredible increases in per capita income occurred.  Mr. Ridley trumpets this progress throughout his book.  In areas without patent systems, we see stagnant growth in per capita income.  For instance, Japan’s per capita income does not take off until they copy the US patent system in the 1860s.

It is unfortunate that this excellent book is disfigured by the author’s irrational infatuation with the open source movement.  This infatuation causes the author to embrace the logical contradiction that increases in population density increase economic growth and also causes the Malthusian trap (decreases in economic growth).  It also causes him to reject the solution to the Malthusian trap, which is the recognition of property rights in inventions.


[1] http://bakelitecollector.com/bakelite-history 7/21/10

[2] http://inventors.about.com/od/cstartinventions/a/Cellophane.htm 7/12/10

[3] http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa082497.htm

[4] Ted Buckley, Ph.D., The Myth of the Anticommons, Bio, www.bio.org (2007); Epstien, Richard A., Kuhlik, Bruce N., Is there a Biomedical Anticommons, Regulation, (Summer 2004), pp. 54-58

 
Innovation vs. Invention

I believe there is a lot of confusion regarding the difference between invention and innovation.  This confusion is the result of erroneous definitions and the purposeful intent of some to increase their importance by belittling the contributions of others.

I believe that most of this mischief started with the great economist Joseph Schumpter.  According to Wikipedia:

Following Schumpeter (1934), contributors to the scholarly literature on innovation typically distinguish between invention, an idea made manifest, and innovation, ideas applied successfully in practice

There is nothing inherently wrong with the distinction above, but the way it is applied blurs together a number of different skills.  Blurring skills together shows a  misunderstanding of the process of innovating.  Broadly speaking, innovation can be broken into two distinct sets of skills: creation and dissemination.  By creation I mean creating something new, not production – creating something old.

A subset of creation is invention.  An invention is a creation with an objective repeatable result.  A creation that is not an invention has a subjective result, such as the effect of a painting on a viewer, or the effect of a book on a reader.  Many activities combine both a subjective creation and an invention, such as architecture.  However, we can separate out the invention from the other creative elements and this helps our understanding of the process.

Dissemination may include a number of processes, such as education (marketing, sales), manufacturing, finance, and management.  This is not to say that marketing cannot be creative, it clearly often is very creative.  However, the creative part of marketing can be separated out from the dissemination or execution part of marketing.  The same is true of manufacturing, which can definitely include inventing.  But an invention related to manufacturing is part of the creation step not part of the dissemination step.

Finance can also have inventions.  For instance, the invention of a fractional reserve ratio bank is clearly an invention.  It has the objective result of securitizing assets and turning them into loans and currency.  A fractional reserve bank will securitize land and turn into a loan and currency.  Despite this, it is important to understand that the first person to develop the fractional reserve bank is inventing and the person operating the fractional reserve bank is disseminating.

All real per capita economic progress is the result of inventing.  This is not to say that it is unnecessary to disseminate inventions, but if there were no new inventions there would not be any economic progress. We would be stuck in static world once all the inventions had been completely disseminated.  Of course, if we stop all dissemination activities we will quickly starve to death.

It is my belief that business and economic professors have focused on “innovation” instead of “invention” because they have no idea how to invent or how the process of how inventing works.  They concentrate on what they know, i.e. business and economic practices.   As a result, the focus is dissemination,  under-appreciating the importance of inventing.  In addition, it results in misleading business theories, such as:

- Management teams are more important than the quality of the invention.

- Execution is everything; patents and other IP do not matter.

- Get Big Fast.

The truth-test of these theories is directly related to the strength of the patent laws at the time the company is created.  When patent laws are weak, these theories are more true and when patent laws are strong, these theories are less true.  Unfortunately, when patent laws are weak these theories do not overcome the disincentive to invest in risky new technologies.  Management teams do not build revolutionary or disruptive technologies, they just disseminate these technologies. These sorts of teams are like large companies and generally can produce a return with less risk by NOT developing high-risk technologies.  They tend to focus on incremental technologies or on stealing someone else’s technology.  While this may be good business advice in a period of weak patents, it is bad for our country’s competitiveness and our standard of living.

Technological progress (i.e., inventing), in the long run, is the only competitive business advantage.  The best management team in the world selling buggy whips at the turn of the century could not overcome the technological advance of the automobile and stay a buggy whip company.  The best management team in the world selling vacuum tubes in the 1940s, could not overcome the advance of transistors and semiconductors and stay a vacuum tube company.  This country is littered with companies that had great management teams that were overwhelmed by changes in technology.  For instance, Digital Computers had a great management team, but they could not overcome the advance of the personal computer.  Digital Computers failed to invent fast enough to overcome the onslaught of small inexpensive computers.  US steel was not able to overcome the onslaught of mini-mills, aluminum, and plastics.  This was not because they did not have a good management team, it was because the management team under- prioritized invention and over-prioritized execution or dissemination skills.  Ford & GM have not become walking zombies because they did not have strong management teams, but because they have not invented.  As a result, they have antiquated production systems and weak technology in their products.  86% of the companies in the Fortune 500 in 1959 are no longer there.  Some of these companies disappeared because of bad management, but most companies disappeared because they did not keep up with changing technology.  In other words, they did not invent.

Inventions or advances in technology are the ONLY WAY to increase real per capita incomes and the only long term business advantage.  Business school theories that do not prioritize invention, are bad business and bad for our country.

 
Non-Obviousness: A Case Study in Judicial Activism

The genesis of the non-obviousness standard (Inventive Step in Europe) was the Supreme Court’s decision in Hotchkiss v. Greenwood, 52 U.S. (11 How.) 248 (1851).  This case first articulated the idea that the improvement that was the subject of a patent had to be more than “the work of the skilful mechanic.”  The case involved making door and other knobs of all kinds of clay used in pottery, and of porcelain.[1]The invention according to the patent holder was:

This improvement consists in making said knobs of potter’s clay, such as is used in any species of pottery; also of porcelain; the operation is the same as in pottery, by moulding, turning, and burning and glazing; they may be plain in surface and color, or ornamented to any degree in both; the modes of fitting them for their application to doors, locks, furniture, and other uses, will be as various as the uses to which they may be applied, but chiefly predicated on one principle, that of having the cavity in which the screw or shank is inserted, by which they are fastened, largest at the bottom of its depth, in form of a dovetail, and a screw formed therein by pouring in metal in a fused state.[2]

The Supreme Court upon reviewing the case made the common error of pointing out that each of the elements in the invention were known.

But in the case before us, the knob is not new, nor the metallic shank and spindle, nor the dovetail form of the cavity in the knob, nor the means by which the metallic shank is securely fastened therein. All these were well known, and in common use, and the only thing new is the substitution of a knob of a different material from that heretofore used in connection with this arrangement.[3]

All inventions are combinations of known elements since conservation of matter and energy means that you cannot create something from nothing, for more information see KSR: Supreme Ignorance by Supreme Court.  As a result, this analysis by the Supreme Court is meaningless and sheds no light on whether the invention should have obtained a patent.

Based on this analysis the Supreme Court then reasons:

for unless more ingenuity and skill in applying the old method of fastening the shank and the knob were required in the application of it to the clay or porcelain knob than were possessed by an ordinary mechanic acquainted with the business, there was an absence of that degree of skill and ingenuity which constitute essential elements of every invention. In other words, the improvement is the work of the skillful mechanic, not that of the inventor.[4] (underlining added)

This ruling states the well known idea that for an invention to be patentable, it must be more than just the work of a skillful mechanic.  Today this is stated as the invention must have taken more than just the work of “one skilled in the art.”

There are a number of problems in the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hotchkiss v. Greenwood. First, where did the Supreme Court get the authority to add an additional requirement above novelty in order for an invention to obtain a patent?  The statute at the time did not contain any such additional requirement.  It was judicial activism to add a requirement not found in the statute.  Another error in the Supreme Court’s reasoning is the use of hindsight.  All inventions are obvious in hindsight and must be described in enough detail that they can be practiced by one skilled in the art (ordinary mechanic) to meet the requirement of the social contract of patents.[5] Another error in the case was the failure to recognize that copying by competitors of the invention or success of the invention tend to show that it was non-obvious.  Finally, the Supreme Court failed to understand the implications of the laws of physics as they apply to inventions, specifically that conservation of matter means all inventions are combinations of known elements.

Despite these errors, it is reasonable to ask did the Supreme Court’s judicial activism result in any lasting problems?  According to Gale R. Peterson, Cox Smith Matthews in their paper, “Obviousness / Non-Obviousness Of The Novel Invention: Hotchkiss v. Greenwood to KSR v. Teleflex 35 U.S.C. § 103 – 1851 to 2006.”[6]

The cases decided after Hotchkiss in 1851, both by the Supreme Court and the lower courts, were chaotic. There was no statute governing the additional hurdle an otherwise novel invention must cross before being deemed a patentable invention.[7]

The Supreme Court’s decision in Hotchkiss v. Greenwood resulted in an unworkable standard of patentability, because it was inherently subjective.  This increased the uncertainty whether an inventor would obtain a patent for their invention and increased the risk that their patent might be held invalid.  It also caused the standard of patentability to vary in different Circuits and the Patent Office.  Today this is widely understood to increase the cost of obtaining a patent and decrease the amount of resources invested in inventions.  The Supreme Court’s judicial activism in Hotchkiss v. Greenwood resulted in numerous problems that haunt us today.  Including the complete nonsense opined by the Supreme Court in the KSR v. Teleflex[8] decision, see KSR: Supreme Ignorance by Supreme Court.

Is there any logical reason for the additional requirement of non-obviousness for patents?  The definition of invention according to Free Dictionary online is “to produce or contrive (something previously unknown) by the use of ingenuity or imagination.”[9] While Merriam Webster (online) defines invention as “a device, contrivance, or process originated after study and experiment.”[10] I will ignore how and invention is created as a criteria and suggest the following definition, “to create something new” as a common sense definition.  This definition differentiates production or manufacturing from invention.  Production is creating something, but it is not creating something new it is creating something old.  If you argue that it is creating something new, then the word new has no meaning in the definition.  This definition does not do a good job of differentiating an invention from a new book or painting.  It might be argued that a new book is not creating something new, but it is not the same as other books.  So I believe this simple common sense definition has to be supplemented.  Specifically, I suggest that invention is “to create something new that has an objective result.”  By an objective result I mean that goal of an invention is an objective result that can be tested as opposed to a subjective result that is the result of a song being played or a book being read or a painting be viewed.  An objective result distinguishes an invention from a new artistic creation.

So how does this common sense definition of invention, “to create something new that has an objective result,” match up with the requirements of patent law (101, 102, 103, 112)?  This definition is generally consistent with section 35 USC 101, statutory subject matter.  It excludes scientific and mathematical discoveries since these are not creations.  Notably it clearly does not exclude software patents.  A software enabled invention is clearly a new creation and it has an objective result.  The same is true of business methods patents (for more on the nonsense associated with business method patent see – Bilski, Software Patents and Business Method Patents.  This definition is clearly consistent with section 102 – new equals novel.  Is this definition consistent with section 35 USC 103?  No this definition is not consistent with section 103.  There is nothing in the definition that suggests a standard above novelty or new.  The general reason given for section 103 is that we do not want trivial inventions that just change the size or the weight or some other trivial feature of an existing invention to obtain a patent.  If a change in size or weight or color does not make a difference in the objective result, it is not new and it is not an invention.  So I believe the definition of invention I have offered covers this issue and therefore there is no reason for an addition standard above novelty.  My suggested definition is neither consistent nor inconsistent with section 35 USC 112, since this section does not define what is an invention.  Section 112 defines the requirements an inventor must meet to obtain a patent for their invention.  Section 112 deals with the social contract between the inventor and society.  Overall the common sense definition I suggested for invention fits nicely with patent law, but there is absolutely no logic for a nonobviousness criteria for patents based on this definition.  The creation of the nonobviousness standard was judicial activism on the part of the Supreme Court without any statutory justification.  The standard has proven to be completely unworkable and completely subjective.  Only the CAFC’s jurisprudence before KSR provided any measure of a stability and logic to the section 103.  The nonobviousness standard has resulted in increase costs to inventors without any benefit.  It has increase the cost of ligation, helped technologies thieves to steal inventions, and decreased the amount invested in new technology.

I suggest the radical notion that logically the nonobviousness standard, 35 USC 103, should be repealed.  If it is not repealed then we should demand a statutory definition that is as objective as possible.  One objective solution would be to codify the CAFC’s teaching, suggestion, motivation (TSM) test.  I have proposed an alternative standard for 35 USC 103 that I believe is even more objective, clearer, and more consistent with reality than the TSM test – see Obviousness Flow Chart .  By adopting any of these solutions we will reduce the cost and uncertainty of obtaining a patent and litigating patents.  This will increase the value of issued patents and increase the investment in new technologies, which are the only way to increase real per capita income – see The Source of Economic Growth.

PS

As an interesting intellectual exercise I attempted to use ordinary definitions of novelty and obviousness to determine if the Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Graham v. Deere[11] had any basis in logic and was in anyway consistent with the statutory language.  The non-obviousness standard was added to U.S. patent law in the 1952 Patent Act.  The Courts’ job is to interpret the statute.  The key portion of the non-obviousness statute states:

A patent may not be obtained though the invention is not identically disclosed or described as set forth in section 102 of this title, if the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains.  (underlining added)

While many lawyers will want to immediately jump to the legislative history to interpret the statute, this is only appropriate if the statute is not clear on it face.  Based on the wording and the fact that section 103 was added later than the novelty requirement, logically 103 is intended to be an additional requirement above the novelty requirement.  According to Dictionary.com, novelty means “of a new kind; different from anything seen or known before: a novel idea.”  The nonobviousness requirement logically requires something more than an invention be novel.  In order to understand what nonobvious means, lets find out what obvious means.  Then anything that does not meet the definition of obvious is nonobvious.  According to Dictionary.com obvious means, “easily seen, recognized, or understood; open to view or knowledge; evident.”  It is axiomatic to patent law that whether an invention is nonobvious has to be determined at the time the invention was made, in other words before the invention was known.  How can an invention that has not been made be easily seen, recognized, or understood; open to view or knowledge; evident (obvious)?  Clearly, an invention that has not been made cannot be open to view and how can you have knowledge of something that does not exist.  Evident means, according to Dictionary.com, plain or clear to the sight or understanding, which cannot be true of something that does not exist.  Unfortunately, this line of examination does not lead to any useful results.  No wonder the 1952 Statute has not lead to meaningful clarification of what is patentable!


[1] Hotchkiss v. Greenwood, 52 U.S. (11 How.) 248, 249 (1851)

[2] Ibid 250-251

[3] Ibid 266

[4] Ibid 268

[5] 35 USC 112, first paragraph (Modern)

[6] Gale R. Peterson, Cox Smith Matthews, “Obviousness / Non-Obviousness Of The Novel Invention: Hotchkiss v. Greenwood to KSR v. Teleflex 35 U.S.C. § 103 – 1851 to 2006.” 11th Annual Advanced Patent Law Institute, October 26-27 2006.

[7] Ibid 3.

[8] KSR Int’l Co. v. Teleflex, Inc., 550 U.S. 398 (2007).

[9] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/inventor (6/16/10).

[10] http://www.merriam-webster.com/netdict/invention (6/16/10).

[11] Graham v. John Deere Co. of Kansas City, 86 S.Ct. 684 (1966)

 
Confusing the Property Right with the Implementation of the Property Right

Many  entrepreneurs, inventors, and economists complain about the Patent System and intellectual property rights.  However, when you examine their complaints they are often concerned about how the patent system is implemented as opposed to the concept of property rights for inventions – patents.  For instance, an extremely successful entrepreneur and angel investor I know complained that patents increase the uncertainty when investing in a start-up company.  Because of the long time that it takes patents to issue, he protested that it is difficult to know when a patent might suddenly issue, affecting the business plan of a start-up in which he has invested.   Other common complaints include that the patent system is expensive, time consuming, and difficulties in determining the boundaries of a patent. Some people go so far as to suggest that this shows that patents are not a true property right.  After all, they reason, it is easy to determine the boundaries of real property and obtaining title to real property (land) is a straight forward process.

Here, the complainers show that their ignorance of history.  Before title insurance buyers of real property paid an attorney a lot of money to determine if they would receive “good title” to land if they bought it from the seller.  This title opinion did not come with a guarantee and it was not cheap.  In addition, you would have to pay a surveyor to determine the boundaries of your real property.  The survey process was expensive and fraught with problems until the advent of modern technology, such as GPS.  Our ancestors fought each other tooth and nail over the boundaries to their land.  In fact, court battles over land are a great way to trace your ancestry, because these battles were so common.

While the critics are wrong in their comparison between real property and patents, they are correct that we need systems that reduce the cost and uncertainty of determining the boundaries of patents (inventions) and whether the owner has good title (102, 103 issues).  In short, we need the equivalent of title insurance for patents.  I believe that standards committees (e.g., IEEE 802.11 WiFi) are acting like title insurance companies.  They determine which patents are essential to practice the invention.  In effect, they determine the boundaries of patents with respect to the standard and to some extent determine if these patents have good title to an invention.  I also believe that NPEs (Non-Practicing Entities) also act like title insurance companies.  Of course, many of the critics of the patent system do not like NPEs either.

I, too,  agree that the patent system takes too long to issue patents.  However, the problem is not with the concept of a patent system but with a government that has failed to fully fund the Patent Office.  In the last two decades, about billion dollars in user fees have been diverted from the Patent Office to Congressional pet projects.  In the US, the Patent Office has always been funded by user fees, which are the fees that inventors pay to the Patent Office when they file for a patent.  However, when an inventor writes a check to the Patent Office the money is deposited directly to the general treasury account of the federal government.  Congress then appropriates these fees back to the Patent Office.  When Congress diverts (steals) a billion dollars of user fees from the Patent Office, it is not surprising that the Patent Office will take longer to determine issues of patentability,  increasing uncertainty for start-ups.  If Congress was subject to Sarbanes Oxley, they would all be thrown in jail for this diversion of fees.  In my opinion, the patent process has also become too formalistic and complicated.

These complaints that I have cataloged here are not about patents per se, but with the implementation of the patent system.  I agree that the present patent system is overly cumbersome, too formalistic, too expensive, and takes too long.  As an aside, I will point out that the critics of patents (IP) complain about their complexity but raise just a peep about a tax system that is over 10,000 pages and a new securities law that is over 1400 pages.  There appears to be a disconnect in their thinking.

Some of the solutions to the problems with our patent system will occur if the free market is allowed to create solutions like title insurance for patents.  Fully funding the Patent Office will solve many of the other problems, such as the lengthy pendency times.  Patents are completely consistent with Locke’s formulation of property.  Patents like real property rights are  fundamental to economic progress and human rights.

 
More Evidence Sarbox is Hurting Our Economy

AWall Street Journal article discusses how a number of European companies are delisting from US stock exchanges.  The article points out that cost of complying with US law is outweighs any benefits derived by being listed on a US stock exchange.  It also explains that the cost of Sarbanes Oxley is increasing, despite earlier predictions that the cost of SOX would decline over time.  The new financial reform bill does nothing to address these problem.  In fact the present financial reform bill, at over 1400 pages, is going to make it more difficult for start-ups to raise money and more costly to go public in the US.

 
Judge Michel – Economy Recovery Requires Strong Patent System

Judge Paul Michel has an excellent article in JPTOS.  Judge Michel first explains that the economy and a well functioning patent system are connect.

The primary engine of American recovery and resurgence will therefore have to be an improved patent system. Without that, both short term recovery and long-term prosperity will be stunted. By “system”, I mean primarily the Patent and Trademark Office, and the Federal courts, which along with the International Trade Commission provide the only mechanisms to monetize patent value.

Next he points out one of my main complaints about the patent publication requirements – we are giving away our technology

Because most applications must by law be published at 18 months, others, including foreign competitors, can pirate inventions for years before the patents issue, for until then patent owners have no rights.

Michel then discusses the damaging effects of fee diversion from the patent office.

In addition, the Congress must guarantee the PTO will keep all fees. Since 1992, Congress diverted over 900 million dollars in patent fees to other uses. ‘This fiscal year Congress, once again, will not allow the office to keep all the fees it expects to collect; an estimated $150-250 million will go elsewhere. Permanently ending such “fee diversion” is necessary to reviving the PTO. If Congress continues diverting fees to other purposes, raising fee levels will have little effect. In addition, is it fair that fees provided by private patent applicants finance other government activities?

Finally, he suggests PTO satellite office, which has been a hot button of mine.

What else? Let the PTO open satellite offices, in places like Detroit, and Houston, and hire unemployed engineers who are already experienced IP professionals. But again, Congressional authorization is needed. Under current law, most employees must work in Alexandria, Virginia. Congress also controls the pay structure for examiners. The General Schedule that sets pay for civil servants should not apply to the scientists and engineers in the patent office. Industry would willingly pay higher fees to enable the PTO to pay more competitive salaries to highly-skilled examiners. Congress should raise these pay levels.

 
Pikes Peak IEEE Talk

I will be speaking at the Pikes Peak IEEE dinner event on May 21.  To register click here.

“The Decline and Fall of the American Engineer”
By Dale B. Halling, Esq.

Dale Halling is a rarity among speakers. In addition to his law degree, he hold a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MS in Physics. He is a local attorney specializing in intellectual property. Mr. Halling’s presentation is based on his book “The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur: How Little Known Laws and Regulations are Killing Innovation”. Mr. Halling will focus on the issues of particular interest to engineers. He will also discuss policies that would benefit engineers and help us maintain technical leadership.

 
Source of Economic Growth

What is the source of economic growth?  Trying times like these make this question even more important.  The chart on the left is particularly instructive about the sources of economic growth.  It defines what engineers call a boundary layer condition.  The chart shows per capita income from 1000 BC to 2000 AD, where income has been normalized to one for the year 1800.  The part on the left where per capita income final takes off is only true for western countries.  For instance, African countries still have incomes near or below one on this chart and incomes in Japan do not take off for almost another 100 years.

So the million dollar question is why does income take off around 1800 after millennia of going nowhere?  Let’s examine the standard answers for getting our economy growing today.  Is the reason that income takes off around 1800 because taxes suddenly get lower (or higher) around 1800?  No tax levels did not change significantly around 1800 and in fact they were lower than today until around 1900.  Tax levels averaged 10% or less of GDP during most of history.  Is it because the size of government suddenly shrunk (or grew) around 1800?  No, the size of government did not change significantly around 1800.  The size of government did not start to grow until around 1900.  Is it because we suddenly created the world’s greatest “cash for clunker program” – in other words was Keynes right we just had to stimulate demand?  Well during the period from 1000 BC until about 1800 AD is called the Malthusian period, after Thomas Malthus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malthus.  During this period humans are just like every other animal and our population expands until we are on the edge of starvation.  I am pretty sure that there was plenty of demand during this period, at least for food.  Does income suddenly take off because we figure out how to control our money supply just right?  No the tools for controlling the money supply around 1800 were pretty crude.  The only reason we are wealthier today than in 1800 or 1500 or 1000 BC is because of our technology.  If we had the same technology as our ancestors we would be no wealthier than they were.

I am not the only one to point out that increases in our level of technology are the only reason for real per capita increases in income.  Robert Solow won the Nobel Prize in economics for essentially this point.  Other economists who have study this area include Paul Romer of Stanford, Jacob Schmookler who studied the relationship between inventions and economic growth and Gregory Clark from UC Davis.  This area of economics is often called Economics 2.0 or Innovation Economics.  One of the best books on this area (other than my book The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur ) is a business book, entitled The Invisible Edge.

Not coincidentally 1800 is around the time the first modern patent systems are created.  Patents are the only free market system for encouraging people to invest in inventions and technology.  Patents are legal title to your invention.  The first patent statute in the US is passed in 1790.  The US becomes the economic and technological leader of the world because of our patent system, not because of some innate Yankee ingenuity.  We are the first country in history to recognize that inventors’ have a right to their inventions.  In fact, the only place where the US Constitution uses the word “right” is with respect to patents and copyrights.[1]

Despite the overwhelming evidence for the connection between patents, technology and economic growth, some detractors are going to argue that this is just coincidence.  The chart at the right shows per capita GDP for various countries.  As already explained US per capita GDP takes off around the time we create our patent system.  Japan comes to the US and studies why we are successful around the 1860s.  Their conclusion is that the US patent system is why the US is a technological and economic powerhouse.  As a result the Japanese copy the US patent system sometime in the 1870s, which is when their per capita income takes off.  A similar situation occurs in China.  On the other hand there are numerous countries with no patent system or ineffectual patent systems that are stuck in the Malthusian trap.

Patents are the free market system for conferring legal title to inventions and encouraging investment in technology.  Increases in technology are the only way to increase real per capita income.  A strong patent system is keystone upon which economic growth is built.


[1] US Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8.  Note the Bill of Rights are amendments to the Constitution.

 
Patents and Jobs

According to business and patent expert David Kline and Henry R. Nothhaft, CEO of technology miniaturization firm Tessera, Inc. in the Harvard Business Review:

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) may be the single greatest facilitator of private sector job creation and economic growth in America. It is this agency, after all, that issues the patents that small businesses — especially technology startups — need to attract venture capital investment, develop new products and services, and serve their historic role as the primary source of almost all new net job growth in America. According to one recent study, 76 percent of startup executives say that patents are essential to their funding efforts.

 David Kline is an expert in this area.  He is author of ground breaking book, Rembrandts in the Attic , on patents in business.  He is also author of Burning the Ships  that explores how Microsoft used patents to transform their business.  According to the authors, “The costs of the forgone innovation resulting from patent delays in the many billions of dollars annually.”  I think they are underestimating the cost of patent delays. 

Please read the full article at  http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/05/the_biggest_job_creator_you_ne.html

 
Director Kappos Pushes “First to File”

Director of the Patent Office, David Kappos, provided the following explanation for why we should convert from a “first to invent” to a “first to file” system at the BIO International Convention.

“Kappos’ explanation of the long odds facing a small entity claiming to be the first to invent but who filed the patent application second.  Kappos likened the odds of such a Junior Party prevailing to the odds of being bitten by a Grizzly Bear and a Polar Bear on the same day.  He then went on to say that you have to go back to FY 2007 to find a prevailing small entity Junior Party in an interference.  As Kappos explained, those who think first to invent is a benefit for small entities are living a lie, which is certainly true, but many will not like to hear that truth.”

There are two problems with this “practical” answer: 1) the first person to file is not the inventor logically or morally, and 2) the unintended consequences of a first to file system.  A system that is supposedly practical but is not just will not succeed in spurring innovation.  The real answer is to reduce the burdens associated with interferences, not to trash the morally and logically correct answer – first to invent.

A first to file system will result in many poorly thought out patent applications increasing the PTO’s workload and increasing the number of Continuations-In-Part (CIPs).  The confusion created by this system of filing early and then following up with corrected applications will result in litigation being more expensive and less certain.  In addition, this system will further bias the patent system in favor of large entities.  Large entities will use a first to file system to flood the PTO with patents to overwhelm small entities and individual inventors in the race to the patent office.  Small entities and individual inventors will never be able to compete financially in this race to the PTO.  According to the SBA, most emerging technologies are created by small entities not large entities.  As a result, we need to make sure that our patent system is friendly for small entities if we want it to encourage innovation.

The result of the first to file system along with the publication system in the rest of the world has been to create a patent system for large entities.  The number of filings by small entities in these countries is trivial compared to the number of patent filings by small entities and individual inventor in the U.S.  There is no evidence that first to file system has spurred innovation in those countries that have this system.  So the “truth” here is that the first to file system is not designed to spur innovation – it is a further attempt to bias the patent system in favor of large corporations.

 
Voices on the Net a Session with JJ

I had an excellent interview with JJ on a Session w/JJ on Voice on the net.  For the full interview click here.

 
State Intellectual Property Bank

The federal government is pursuing a suicidal policy of giving away our inventions to our foreign competitors.  Our state can mitigate the damage of this insane policy by creating a state intellectual property bank.

The United States is giving away our most valuable assets – our technology.  In 2000, the government required the publication of most US patent applications in 18 months after they are filed.  Since patents only provide title to your invention in the country (or countries) in which you apply for patent protection, foreigners are able to steal our technology by just reading our published patent applications.  In fact, Pat Choate in his book, Saving Capitalism, (http://www.amazon.com/Saving-Capitalism-Keeping-America-Vintage/dp/0307474836) documents a company in China that admits to just searching the published patent applications as their only research and development project.  How can our state avoid this suicidal policy?

Besides publishing our patent applications, the federal government requires that owners of patents pay a maintenance fee every four years in order to keep their patent from going abandoned.  Our state can use a process called escheat in order to ensure that no valuable patents go abandoned because of failure to a pay maintenance fee.  Escheat is a common law doctrine that operates to ensure that property is not left ownerless, according to Wikipedia.  Using this process the state can create a large portfolio of patents and ensure that our intellectual property is not lost.

How could the process of escheat be used to increase the wealth of our state?  State sanctioned entities would be allowed to pay the maintenance fee on any patent owned by a person or corporation residing in the state on the last day for paying the maintenance fee and take ownership of the patent using the state power of escheat.  This would allow these state sanctioned entities to build large portfolio’s of patents quickly.  Since the value of patents increases when they are part of a portfolio, this would allow these entities to build valuable patent portfolios that would generate licensing revenue.  My alma mater Kansas State University used a similar process to create a large patent portfolio very quickly.

So who are these state entities?  I do not suggest that the state literally run an invention company, I suggest that they license out this power of escheat to any group that has a reasonable plan to develop these patent portfolios.  For instance, university technology transfer offices are in a good position to evaluate the value of the patents that are about to expire for failure to pay their maintenance fees.  The licensing revenue from these patents could be used to support further university research.  Another potential group would be an intellectual property venture capital group.  Other groups could include NPE (Non-Practice Entities) invention firms, similar to Intellectual Ventures, Acadia, etc. that located in the state.

In order to ensure that the state’s interest is served, these entities could be required to license non-exclusively all in-state companies any patents in their portfolio desired by the in-state company for 30% less than a reasonably royalty.  This would encourage out of state companies to move to our state and be a great Economic Development tool for the state.  If more than one entity wanted to acquire title to a patent that was going abandon for failure to pay the maintenance fees, they would bid for the patent and the proceeds would be paid to the original owner.

The original owner of the patent would be provided certain safeguards.  For instance, they could reacquire title to there patent by paying the maintenance fee, the fees to revive the patent and reasonable attorney’s fees to the acquiring party within the time frames allowed by the patent statute.  In addition, the original owner would receive a small part of any proceed from the patent, such as 5% of any royalties or other return on the patent.

You might ask why anyone would want to pay the maintenance fee for a patent in which the owner was unwilling to do so?   A number of valuable patents go abandoned for failure to pay the maintenance fee because the underlying business has gone under or in the case of individual inventors they no longer have the resources to pursue the patent.  In fact, many of the independent non-practicing entities, such as Intellectual Ventures and Acadia started by acquiring the patents of companies that failed.  Other examples of failed business ventures where the underlying patents were very valuable include NTP and Mostek.  NTP is an invention company created out of the ashes of the failed operating company, Telefind Corporation.  RIM the maker of the Blackberry infringed NTP’s patents and eventually settled with NTP for over $600 Million.  Mostek was a failed semiconductor company that was sold to Thomson SA for $71M in 1985.  In the next seven years, Mostek licensed its patent portfolio for over $450 million.  So as you can see there are numerous patents that are valuable that go abandoned for failure to pay their maintenance fees.

A state Intellectual Property Bank program would ensure that the state did not lose its most valuable assets and be a strong economic development tool.

 
Death of Angel Capital
According to the Wall Street Journal:
Senator Chris Dodd’s 1,400-page financial reform bill contains many economic land mines, and here’s one of the worst: Provisions that would make it harder for business start-ups to raise seed capital. Currently, wealthy individuals who want to invest directly in a new business can do so with minimum interference from regulators. The law requires only that the investor be “accredited” by meeting thresholds for net worth ($1 million) or income ($250,000). Entrepreneurs depend on these “angel” investors, since many new businesses lack the collateral for bank loans and are too small to interest venture capitalists.
Mr. Dodd’s bill would change all this for the worse. Most preposterously, it would require that start-ups seeking angel investments file with the Securities and Exchange Commission and endure a 120-day review. Rare is the new company that doesn’t need immediate access to the capital it raises, and a four-month delay is the kind of rule popular in banana republics that create few new businesses.
The legislation also removes a federal pre-emption that prevents start-ups and investors from being subject to 50 different state regulators. The North American Securities Administrators Association, which represents state regulators, argues that federal pre-emption contributes to fraud. But angel investors don’t use broker-dealers and other middlemen linked to recent investment scandals. Nascent companies often seek financing from multiple investors in different states, and a state-by-state regulatory regime would mean higher compliance costs and more legal risks.
The Dodd bill also raises the net worth and income thresholds to $2.3 million and $450,000, respectively. The Angel Capital Association, a trade group, estimates that these provisions would disqualify about 77% of current accredited investors. Accreditation matters in luring other potential investors, such as venture capitalists who enter the picture once a company begins to mature.

Please see the full Article

 

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