State of Innovation

Patents and Innovation Economics

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


June 15, 2011 Posted by | -Philosophy, Patents | , , , , , , , | 9 Comments