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Tacit knowledge in patent applications: observations on the value of models to early US Patent Office practice and potential implications for the 21st century


  • Durack, Katherine T.


Scientist-philosopher Michael Polanyi has observed that tacit knowledge--knowledge that we know but cannot tell--is an essential part of scientific genius and the ability to innovate. He also observes that physical embodiments, particularly in combination with other means of communicating, provide one important means for transmitting tacit knowledge about an invention. Early in the history of the US Patent Office, a patent application to that Office reflected the need to capture unarticulated aspects of an invention: the application included models as well as text and diagrams. Used in disputes about the content and nature of an invention, models were a vital means for communicating about inventions to the public. This article considers the historical relationship among the various types of "texts"--drawings, texts, and models--that were once required for patent applications. It describes Patent Office arguments for and against eliminating models as evidence of invention, and concludes by raising questions about the potential value of computer models to contemporary patent activity.

Suggested Citation

  • Durack, Katherine T., 2004. "Tacit knowledge in patent applications: observations on the value of models to early US Patent Office practice and potential implications for the 21st century," World Patent Information, Elsevier, vol. 26(2), pages 131-136, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:worpat:v:26:y:2004:i:2:p:131-136

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