White House Going To Launch Its Own Innovation Prize Platform

from the x-prize-me dept

Last year, I spoke with some folks in the White House about various systems for doing “innovation prizes.” I got the impression that the whole concept of innovation prizes and encouraging and rewarding breakthrough ideas in more creative means was a top priority among the team I spoke with. So, it’s no surprise to hear that the White House is now planning to launch its very own innovation prize platform. The government, of course, is no stranger to innovation prizes, with things like the DARPA’s “grand challenge” for autonomous vehicles, and its more recent “find the red balloons” challenge. However, I believe the goal here is to make it easier for other parts of the federal government to quickly offer up compelling innovation challenges. While I’ll be curious to see the platform in action — and how it’s used — it’s really great to see the federal government seriously exploring and enabling new and different ways to encourage innovation. It’s especially encouraging to see them not just fall back on thinking that “patents” are the only lever they can pull.

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Comments on “White House Going To Launch Its Own Innovation Prize Platform”

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Hephaestus (profile) says:

“If properly used, he said, prizes and challenges could help the government “pay only for results,” “

I see these prizes being narrowed in scope over time as defense contractors and the like get out classed and loose contracts. How long were the defense contractors working on self driving vehicles before the grand challenge?

I would like to see DOE do prizes for high COP heat pumps, high efficiency solar power with prizes at each percentage gain in these systems.

Anonymous Coward says:

I can imagine what these prizes will be granted for 100 ears from now. “If you reinvent something that’s been invented 10 years ago or even something obvious, we’ll give you a million dollars.” It’s like with the patent system, patent prizes are supposed to exclude prior art and things that are obvious to those trained in the art and initially this might have been so for a while, but we’ve eventually reached the point where prior art no longer matters and patents are frequently granted on things obvious to those not trained in the arts.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

While I am sceptical ...

I am sceptical and believe this will be corrupted as corporate toes are steppped on. If done by private foundations this is the way to spur innovation.

If you look back to the history of flight some of the great improvements occured because of aviation challenges. Recently the x-Prize organizations prize caused a competition that put a private organization into space. The x-prize organization is now going after 100 mpg automobiles, high speed genetic scanning, and to send a robot to the moon. These sort of competitions truely drive innovation.

What could be done is alter tax law to allow for these prizes to be full tax deductable. This could actually be done right now with out tax law changes by creating a tax deductable foundation to filter the money through. This would allow corporations, high net worth individuals, crowd sourcing for funding of ideas, and groups of individuals to ask the public at large to sovle problems of interest.

This same organization could also create a central clearing house of all prizes offered through it and other groups and organizations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Looks like the USDA is already on board

The USDA has already moved forward with this. They have set aside $40,000 in prizes for a contest for people to use their data.gov nutrition data in fun, educational software for kids. They’ve got an impressive line-up of judges (Steve Wozniak, reps from LucasArts, Sesame Street, etc.) It’s a good move. More info at http://www.appsforhealthykids.com

Dale B. Halling (profile) says:

Prizes Poor Substitute for Working Patent System

Innovation prizes have always been the substitute for a patent system as a way of spurring inventions. Unfortunately, they tend to become politicized and are much more expensive than a patent system. For instance, see the excellent book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. In that case, the brilliant clock maker was squeezed out of winning the prize for accurately determining longitude by the politically more connected astronomy community. The patent system is self funded and provides infinitely more return than innovation prizes, such as the NSF, NIH, etc. Unfortunately, Congress has stolen over $1Billion in user fees from the Patent Office over the last couple of decades. As a result, the Patent Office is understaffed and now takes around three years to provide an initial examination of a patent application. Instead of spending money on innovation prizes, the White House should return the $1Billion in user fees with interest back to the patent office.

Anonymous Coward is wrong that the patent system routinely makes the mistake of issuing patents for inventions that can be found in the prior art.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Prizes Poor Substitute for Working Patent System

For instance, see the excellent book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. In that case, the brilliant clock maker was squeezed out of winning the prize for accurately determining longitude by the politically more connected astronomy community.

Yes, *by the king*. 300 years ago.

Kind of a different situation these days.

Considering the total lack of evidence that the patent system helps innovation in any way, I’m sorry but your claims are not particularly believable — especially given that you personally are someone who makes your money from the system.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Prizes Poor Substitute for Working Patent System

You know, the thing is that I do think that some government intervention, if implemented correctly, can help innovation. Our current system doesn’t, but I think that if the government correctly subsidizes innovation it can be helped. I prefer that the government not use patents, and use grants (which they already do even) because at least grants don’t directly restrict the freedoms of others (though they do indirectly by taking away their money), but even if they do use patents, if implemented correctly (and surely patents shouldn’t last nearly as long as they currently do of course) I think that even patents could help innovation. (I’m just so strongly against the currently unbalanced and broken system that I tend to strongly oppose patents more generally to provide some balance).

The two main dangers of course are that, in the case of grants, they may work well initially but then as they become highly politicized, if lots of caution isn’t taken to prevent abuse, decisions regarding who gets the award will likely end up being based on politics and not the merits of the grants. Perhaps some way to make the public more involved, like a public voting? of who gets the grants, could help correct this and be subject to less long term abuse? Not sure. and of course a problem is that if the government starts granting bogus grant money to some people they will tax others to fund such grants and such taxes could take money out of other sectors of the economy, sectors that could better use that money to innovate and hence such grants could indirectly take away our freedoms and hinder innovation.

as for patents, the danger is that, while patents may help innovation initially, we could end up with a patent system as broken as our current one.

As for those who claim, “well, we need funding and R&D is expensive” the thing is that money is a function labor. For instance, to acquire capital what do you do? You WORK, or you hire people to work for you. You need to work to acquire capital or to pay for the capital that you want. You want to buy something, you work. Or if you want to build a house or build something from raw materials or even finding the raw materials requires work. Money is basically a synonym for work (though not exactly). Work itself has monetary value. To that end, people are perfectly willing to put the work into innovating and coming up with cures to health problems even without patents. Look at all the free open source software that people put out there. I suspect that all this free software constitutes millions of dollars worth of labor. We just need to ensure that things like patents don’t prevent people from freely investigating new cures and presenting them to the public. So to that end, 99 percent of the time innovation should be taken care of by the free market (ie: with no patents) and perhaps a small percentage of the time the government could provide grants and an even smaller percentage of the time they could provide patents (but of course 20 years is too long).

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Government encouragement of innovation

Great article again – hitting on all cylinders, Michael. It does miss one point, which is painfully obvious to me as a small entity IP attorney.
The government strongly favors established, well-financed companies, who don’t NEED patents. They put up obstacles to people with great ideas but inadequate funding.
I think it is a case of politicians guiding the programs to welfare for the wealthy handouts (which encourages the recipients to donate to the responsible politician).
To hand out funds to someone who really needed it, but had no way of protecting themselves, would be stupid, and they aren’t really THAT stupid – so they simply don’t use patents or any legal protections as a criteria, and small entities, no matter HOW great the innovation, are out!

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