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The Consequences of Invention Secrecy: Evidence from the USPTO Patent Secrecy Program in World War II

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  • Daniel P. Gross

Abstract

This paper studies the effects of the USPTO's patent secrecy program in WorldWar II, under which approximately 11,200 U.S. patent applications were issued secrecy orders which halted examination and prohibited inventors from disclosing their inventions or filing in foreign countries. Secrecy orders were issued most heavily in areas important to the war effort — such as radar, electronics, and synthetic materials — and nearly all rescinded at the end of the war. I find that compulsory invention secrecy was effective at keeping affected technology out of the public domain, but it appears to have reduced and delayed follow-on invention, restricted commercialization, and temporarily hampered post-war entry into patenting. The results shed light on the consequences of invention secrecy, which is widely used by inventors to protect and appropriate the returns to innovation, and yield lessons for ongoing policy debates over potential measures to protect U.S. invention against the growing incidence of foreign IP theft today.

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel P. Gross, 2019. "The Consequences of Invention Secrecy: Evidence from the USPTO Patent Secrecy Program in World War II," NBER Working Papers 25545, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:25545
    Note: DAE LE PR
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    JEL classification:

    • N42 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • N72 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • O32 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Management of Technological Innovation and R&D
    • 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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