The Heirs of Creativity

A short paper published this week by NBER from authors Albert N. Link and Christopher J. Ruhm takes a simple but oft-neglected look into patents and creativity; namely, how creative parents influence their potentially creative children.

The abstract states:

In this paper we show that the patenting behavior of creative entrepreneurs is correlated with the patenting behavior of their fathers, which we refer to as a source of the entrepreneurs’ human capital endowments. Our argument for this relationship follows from established theories of developmental creativity, and our empirical analysis is based on survey data collected from MIT’s Technology Review winners.

Will First-to-File Hurt Small Inventors?

The U.S. just passed the first major patent reform in nearly sixty years – which includes as a central provision a change to the patent priority rule. Instead of awarding a patent to the first person to invent, we will join other nations in awarding patents to the first person to file an invention.

David Abrams and Polk Wagner have a great paper looking at whether the proposed change in our patent system from a “first to invent” regime to a “first to file” regime is likely to disadvantage individual inventors. The concern is that corporate inventors will have an easier time than the individual in gearing up to draft and file a patent application.

The paper ingeniously looks to see what happened when Canada introduced a similar reform in 1989. The paper is also a great way to teach yourself about the difference-in-difference approach to estimation. The paper first estimates the pre-reform difference between the U.S. and Canada in the proportion of patents going to individual inventors. It then looks to see whether this difference changed – that is, whether there was a difference in the difference – after the Canadian first-to-file reform went into effect.

How "Patent Trolling" Taxes Innovation

Applying for a patent is expensive. Fees can exceed $25,000, and most applications require at least a couple years of effort. We might expect that anyone considering applying for a patent would be fairly certain of the merits of their case for one. And yet, of the patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) that are subsequently litigated, 40% are declared invalid in court.

A court’s declaration that a patent is “invalid” means it should never have been granted in the first place, usually because the invention has been done before, or because it’s obvious to anyone familiar with the patent’s particular scientific or technical field. So why do so many people spend so much time and money filing for patents that are ultimately declared invalid?