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Are we slowly becoming more open with our ideas?


Openness with our thoughts, ideas, research and intellectual property is something I’ve badgered on about a whole lot on this blog over the past few years.

For instance, there have been several studies over the past few years that have shown how beneficial it is for companies to open up their IP.  The general gist is that doing so encourages others to do likewise, whilst also fostering innovation around your own, thus making the market you’re in larger.

The same sort of thinking tends to apply when we talk of sharing ideas on an individual level too, whilst there is a growing tendency for scientific and academic research to be opened up too so that the whole process is transparent rather than simply the published end product.

Opening up of research

It’s on this point that things do appear to be taking a slightly more promising turn for the better.  That was the finding of a recent paper published by researchers at Georgia Tech.

It wanted to challenge the notion that it is rational for an inventor to withhold their knowledge for as long as possible whilst their patent application is being processed to prevent anyone gazumping them.

When the researchers analyzed nearly 2 million patents in the US however, they didn’t find that was the case at all.

Indeed, it emerged that most inventors were only to happy to talk about their patents long before they’d been cleared and signed off.  What’s more, this trend was visible regardless of the size of the invention or the employer of the inventor themselves.

“Small U.S. inventors are not choosing the secrecy route,” the researchers say. “When they patent only in the U.S., they are choosing secrecy in only about 15 percent of the cases, not statistically different than the rate among all other types of inventors.”

What’s more, this openness is certainly not harming the innovation engine in the United States.  Indeed, the study found that the patents that were kept secret as long as possible were generally less valuable than those that were opened up.

“When we examine indicators of patent value, we find consistent evidence that the least-valuable and least-impactful patents are those that opted for pre-grant secrecy,” the researchers say.

The researchers are also only too aware of the social benefit that derives from such openness, both in terms of the collaboration possibilities but also in preventing duplication of effort.

“We have limited resources in our society that we can invest in innovation and invention,” they say. “To the extent that we can more efficiently choose projects and avoid wasteful, redundant efforts, then that’s good for us as a society.”

At the moment there is less clarity on just why inventors are so happy to talk about their work.  The researchers have a number of possible theories that they plan to explore further in their next study of the topic.

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