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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Lemley’

Mark Lemley’s Socialist Theory of Invention

Professor Mark Lemley has asserted that inventions are really created by society and the idea of individual inventors coming up with important inventions is a myth.  I have shown that the broad macroeconomic facts do not support his theory.  Now John Howells and Ron Katznelson have written a paper showing the specific facts Lemley uses to support his thesis are just plain wrong.  Dr. Katznelson has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and is a highly successful inventor and entrepreneur, unlike Professor Lemley who does not have a technical background and is not a patent attorney.  This makes Dr. Katznelson eminently qualified to examine Lemley’s assertion of multiple simultaneous invention.  Dr. Howells also has a technical background.  A common mistake of non-technical people, who do not understand a technology, is to group two inventions together that are distinct and both important.  For instance, they may consider the invention of AM radio, FM radio and superheterodyne receivers as all the invention of the radio.  However, each of these inventions is both distinct and highly significant.

Howells and Katznelson explain, “that Lemley has most of his facts wrong, misstates the holdings of several court cases, and misunderstands the commercial realities that surrounded implementation of these technologies.”  They show the Lemley does not clearly define each invention.  As the paper explains “under patent law‘s formal definition, the word invention refers to a single idea—Edison‘s high resistance filament, the Wright brothers’ wing-warping, Watt‘s steam engine condenser, etc.”  Anyone with even an elementary familiarity of patents knows that simultaneous inventions are very rare.  The Patent Office has a procedure (soon to be extinct) to determine which of two or more people are the true inventors of an invention.  These cases are extremely rare involving around 0.01% of all patent application filed.

As an example of Lemley’s gross negligence of the facts, with respect to Edison’s invention of the high resistance incandescent light bulb, the authors show that a court found:

It is very clear to us that, in the original application for the patent sued on, the applicants had no such object in view as that of claiming all carbon made from fibrous and textile substances as a conductor for an incandescing electric lamp. Nothing on which to base any such claim is disclosed in the original application. We have carefully compared it with the amended application, on which the patent was issued, and are fully satisfied that, after Edison’s inventions on this subject had been published to the world, there was an entire change of base on the part of Sawyer and Man, and that the application was amended to give it an entirely different direction and purpose from what it had in its original form. (emphasis added)

But Lemley ignores this part of the history and asserts that this is a case of simultaneous invention.

The actual invention of Sawyer and Man was:

improvements were directed at having a lamp filled with an absorbent of carbonic acid gas, a spring-loaded feeder feeding a vertical carbon pencil upwards as it was consumed and a design for cheap carbon pencil renewal with easy sealing and exhausting of air. Lemley neglects to tell us that despite these improvements, and even after Edison’s invention, many of the [Sawyer & Man] lamps failed to last more than a few hours.

Lemley also ignores that :

the electrical resistance of these (pre-Edison) lamps was typically only a few Ohms and thus required large currents to power them, rendering power losses through long distribution wires prohibitive. Lemley also neglects to tell us that Sawyer & Man‘s light bulbs could not be used effectively more than a few feet away from a generator, and therefore had little commercial practicality

Please read the whole paper, A Critique of Mark Lemley’s “The Myth of the Sole Inventor”  I will leave you one final quote from the paper.

One can only speculate how much longer it would have taken someone else to come up with Edison‘s idea had it not been for Edison‘s reliance on the patent system and the revenue it protected to support his research and development over the two years that he spent on inventing his incandescent electric lamp.


The Myth of the Sole Inventor: A Socialist Diatribe by Professor Mark A Lemley

The Myth of the Sole Inventor, By Mark A. Lemley, Stanford Law School

Professor Mark A Lemley has written a paper suggesting that sole inventors and individual genius does not exist.  Mr. Lemley teaches patent law and intellectual property law at Stanford University.  However, Mr. Lemley is not a patent attorney, does not have a technical background and as his paper proves has not understanding of technology.  Mr. Lemley’s idea of collectivist invention ignores three basic facts:

1) Groups of people are made up of individuals.

2) Every individual has to think for themselves – you cannot think for someone else, which is a source of frustration for every parent (child).

3) Throughout history the rate of invention was very slow until we introduced property rights for inventions (patents).

Lemley purposely downplays Edison’s achievement.  The fact is that Edison created the first high resistance, long lasting, incandescent light bulb.  This was a huge achievement that made electrical lighting commercially feasible.  Many “experts” with Ph.D.s from the most prestigious universities at the time said electrical lighting was impossible commercially.  Lemley also has his history wrong.  Swan was the most important inventor of the light bulb, before Edison.  He mentions Man and Sawyer, who I find no reference to in any history of the incandescent light bulb.  Lemley appears to have no regard for facts.  His analysis of the Wright brother’s achievements is similarly sloppy and just plain wrong.

Lemley’s argument that great inventions are created by multiple people simultaneously has been examined by numerous scholars and found to be incorrect.  For instance, see Jacob Schmookler and his ground breaking book, Invention and Economic Growth, which examined this issue.  People like Lemley attempt to smear together multiple inventions as being the same invention.  For instance, they see Swan’s light bulb and Edison’s light bulb as simultaneous inventions of the light bulb.  Lemley may have made this mistake because he does not have the technical background necessary to understand the issues surrounding the invention of the light bulb.  However, I suspect that Lemley is not interested in the truth, he is interested in pushing a political theory of collectivist invention.  If Lemley’s ideas held any water at all, then you would expect either: 1) the USSR/North Korea should have been one of the greatest sources of inventions in the history of the World, and/or 2) the greatest population centers would be the biggest creators of new technology.  The facts are that neither are true.  The first is self evident.  The second appears to be true until the creation of property rights for inventions.  When England and the U.S. create an effective property rights system for inventors almost all significant inventions for the Industrial Revolution are invented in the U.S. and England, even though their populations are much smaller than France, China, India, etc.

Lemley is pushing an old worn out socialist idea that individuals do not matter only the collective.  This paper is not novel and its thesis has been proven false over and over again.  But socialists do not believe in an objective reality.

The paper is an example of the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of many of our academic institutions.

The Myth of the Sole Inventor, By Mark A. Lemley, Stanford Law School


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