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Growth by proximity – Moretti on the effect of high-tech hubs on innovation (aeaweb.org)
43 points by nabla9 42 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 5 comments



Using patents as a proxy for innovation seems to be questionable. Most of the larger tech firms develop what are known as "defensive patents". Many of these patents may or may not actually be used for anything, and their actual value is questionable. Engineers will brainstorm an idea, and throw it over the wall to legal, who then will 'refine' the idea into something patentable. Typically, the original idea will only be vaguely recognizable after the lawyers get through with it.

To my knowledge, these patents provide no value to the company or society beyond being a negotiating tool if another company tries to sue them for infringing a patent.

That is to say, the only use these patents have are for big companies, so it's unsurprising that big companies, concentrated in a few metro areas, are the only ones wasting time to create them.


Completely agree with you. I'm always frustrated when I read papers that use patents as a proxy for innovation/research.

In fact, most people doing research in that area know that very well, but then, it seems there are no alternatives to patents (which are standardize, public, easy to access, and can be tracked across even centuries..).


>To my knowledge, these patents provide no value to the company or society beyond being a negotiating tool if another company tries to sue them for infringing a patent.

Now, I am as leery of patents as a metric as anyone here, but I wonder if your context is software or “tech” patents. I am probably in the minority but I do regularly read patents in order to teach myself the basics of esoteric subfields e.g cutting edge (not bleeding edge) industrial chemistry. Ok, as an interested layman (and therefore a reasonable constituent of “the society” of which you speak) I might be wrong about how cutting edge it is, but I usually feel enlightened after one of these forays. Probably not the intention of the patent writers..

EDIT: I try to read the latest papers too, but I find that patents help to provide the missing context

EDIT: this contemporaneous HN thread provides another example of the usefulness of patents https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28889591


Another use for these defensive patents is renting them out to smaller companies in licensing agreements should a smaller company find itself party to a patent lawsuit.

It's basically impossible to write any software without infringing on some patent, so it's only a matter of time once a company gains some visibility before a competitor tries to put a damper on their growth with a patent suit. Licensing a portfolio of a few thousand patents for a few years lets a smaller company fight back (since the competitor is almost certainly infringing on some of those garbage patents).


Isn’t IBM top of the patent list every year? Great example of why patent count does not equal innovation.




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