patents per capita

Man, those students must just be burying Mike. Just to shake off the rust here, there is an interesting article from Toledo Blade on the nexus of old and new economies. Toledo you ask? It's good to realize that some of the issues we are wrestling with are not unique to Pittsburgh, and Toledo is not that dissimilar to Pittsburgh in many ways. It references a recent report by the Cleveland Fed which concludes that patents-per-capita is one of the most important metrics we ought to be concerned with when looking at economic development.


2 Responses to "patents per capita"

Mike Madison said... 9/17/2006 7:23 PM

It's not the students that bury me; it's the occasional rest-of-my-life!

As any patent lawyer or scholar will tell you, not all patents are created equal. Comparing 19th century patents to 20th century patents to 21st century patents is like comparing apples to chainsaws to neutrinos; these things just aren't alike. The "patents-per-capita" "metric" that the study refers to is a fancy, numbers-driven way of saying the obvious: Up until the middle of the 20th century, the American economy was dominated by the industrial cities of the upper Middle West and Northeast. Gradually, industrial growth and development peaked, and those Middle West and Northeast economies slipped into decline.

If all the study did was repeat the obvious, then it would be mildly interesting. Unfortunately, the implicit suggestion that "lots and lots of patents" is a valid road to recovery is simply misleading. Late 20th century and 21st century patenting patterns do not resemble mid-20th century patenting patterns. Contemporary mechanical and chemical patents largely represent minor, incremental technical advances, not anchors for new tech sectors. A sizable body of academic criticism argues that the flood of business method and biomedical patents now emanating from the Patent Office is inhibiting economic growth, because "thickets" of patents require innovators to engage in inefficient and wasteful licensing games. Whether or not that's right, there's essentially no way to structure a rebuilt post-industrial economy on "lots and lots of patents."

Mark Rauterkus said... 9/17/2006 8:42 PM

The article talks about HUFFY, for goodness sake. That bike brand wasn't about quality. Sure, the company sponsored Olympic racers, but give me a break. Huffy is a product made for WalMart sales, and it couldn't stay upright. -- Or, didn't stay upright.

The boom in WalMart sales channels should have put more wind in Huffy's sales, not been a pathway to its death.

My oh my. From time to time I fail to see how some of these newspaper articles connect the dots in terms of logic.

To ride HUFFY into a discussion about patents, be sure your helmet is "fashioned" in a secure way.

I purchased my TREK in 1983. And, I purchased a 3-wheeled bike in China in 2005. They are worlds apart, in many ways. I love bikes, by the way. Thanks for the pointer, CB.

And yes about patents. They don't hold much water in today's marketplace of ideas. We need to reward and give credit to open source code contributions and Souceforge maintainers, not closed code patents. And, in China, they could give a flying spit about some 'US patent' anyway.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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