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Why Don't Inventors Patent?

  • Petra Moser

This paper argues that the ability to keep innovations secret may be a key determinant of patenting. To test this hypothesis, the paper examines a newly-collected data set of more than 7,000 American and British innovations at four world's fairs between 1851 and 1915. Exhibition data show that the industry where an innovation is made is the single most important determinant of patenting. Urbanization, high innovative quality, and low costs of patenting also encourage patenting, but these influences are small compared with industry effects. If the effectiveness of secrecy is an important factor in inventors' patenting decisions, scientific breakthroughs, which facilitate reverse-engineering, should increase inventors' propensity to patent. The discovery of the periodic table in 1869 offers an opportunity to test this idea. Exhibition data show that patenting rates for chemical innovations increased substantially after the introduction of the periodic table, both over time and relative to other industries.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w13294.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13294.

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Date of creation: Aug 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13294
Note: DAE PR
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  1. Manuel Trajtenberg, 1990. "A Penny for Your Quotes: Patent Citations and the Value of Innovations," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(1), pages 172-187, Spring.
  2. Josh Lerner, 2002. "150 Years of Patent Protection," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 221-225, May.
  3. David D. Friedman & William M. Landes & Richard A. Posner, 1991. "Some Economics of Trade Secret Law," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 61-72, Winter.
  4. Gilbert, Richard J & Newbery, David M G, 1982. "Preemptive Patenting and the Persistence of Monopoly," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(3), pages 514-26, June.
  5. James J. Anton & Dennis A. Yao, 2004. "Little Patents and Big Secrets: Managing Intellectual Property," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 35(1), pages 1-22, Spring.
  6. Edwin Mansfield, 1986. "Patents and Innovation: An Empirical Study," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 32(2), pages 173-181, February.
  7. Suzanne Scotchmer & Jerry Green, 1990. "Novelty and Disclosure in Patent Law," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(1), pages 131-146, Spring.
  8. Richard C. Levin & Alvin K. Klevorick & Richard R. Nelson & Sidney G. Winter, 1988. "Appropriating the Returns from Industrial R&D," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 862, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  9. Wesley M. Cohen & Richard R. Nelson & John P. Walsh, 2000. "Protecting Their Intellectual Assets: Appropriability Conditions and Why U.S. Manufacturing Firms Patent (or Not)," NBER Working Papers 7552, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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