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Why Don't Inventors Patent?

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  • Petra Moser

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Petra Moser, 2007. "Why Don't Inventors Patent?," NBER Working Papers 13294, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13294
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    References listed on IDEAS

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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. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. Edwin Mansfield, 1986. "Patents and Innovation: An Empirical Study," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 32(2), pages 173-181, February.
    6. Josh Lerner, 2002. "150 Years of Patent Protection," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 221-225, May.
    7. 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 514-526, June.
    8. 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.
    9. Kenneth J. Arrow, 1962. "The Economic Implications of Learning by Doing," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(3), pages 155-173.
    10. 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.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Joel Mokyr, 2009. "Intellectual Property Rights, the Industrial Revolution, and the Beginnings of Modern Economic Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 349-355, May.
    2. Petra Moser & Alessandra Voena, 2012. "Compulsory Licensing: Evidence from the Trading with the Enemy Act," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(1), pages 396-427, February.
    3. Tilmann Rave & Frank Goetzke & Mario Larch, 2011. "The Determinants of Environmental Innovations and Patenting: Germany Reconsidered," ifo Working Paper Series 97, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich.
    4. Brunt, Liam & Lerner, Josh & Nicholas, Tom, 2011. "Inducement Prizes and Innovation," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 25/2011, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics.
    5. James Bessen, 2010. "Communicating Technical Knowledge," Working Papers 1001, Research on Innovation.
    6. Brunt, Liam & Lerner, Josh & Nicholas, Tom, 2008. "Inducement Prizes and Innovation," CEPR Discussion Papers 6917, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    7. Gaetan de Rassenfosse & Bruno van Pottelsberghe de la Potterie, 2013. "The Role Of Fees In Patent Systems: Theory And Evidence," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 27(4), pages 696-716, September.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D21 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Firm Behavior: Theory
    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights
    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • K0 - Law and Economics - - General
    • L1 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance
    • L5 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy
    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • N2 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions
    • N21 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N23 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights
    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • O34 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Intellectual Property and Intellectual Capital
    • O38 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Government Policy

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