Can You Measure Innovation By Patents?

from the depends-on-who-you-ask dept

One of the issues we discuss repeatedly (and which often seems to bring out all sorts of angry responses — almost all from patent lawyers or patent holders, who would appear to have a certain bias on the question) is about how our country rewards innovation. The NY Times is running an article wondering if US-based innovators are losing their edge, but which adds little of real substance to the conversation. First, it does nothing to distinguish between innovation and invention — a topic that is of utmost importance to any such discussion. At the same time, the article relies on the same metrics that so many others do: patents as a measure of innovative output. Patents are a flawed system, as a number of recent patents have shown. Not only do they measure all sorts of things that clearly don’t deserve to be patented, they also are a measure of invention, not innovation. And since the core of the article is clearly about the economic impact of innovation, it’s important to realize that invention has less of an impact on the economy than innovation does. Invention is coming up with a new product. Innovation is making that product useful so that people want to buy it. That’s what drives the economy, and that’s what any policy should be encouraging. So, yes, we do need to do more to encourage innovation in the US to help grow our economy, but we need to stop focusing on the patent system as the engine.

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