Wiki Contributions


Why is there no equivalent of the VC industry, but for patentable inventions instead of startups?

VC works because making a startup can be extremely profitable. Making patents used to be quite profitable, but is that still the case? I can't recall seeing someone make lots of money from their patent in recent years. (The exception is the pharmaceutical industry, where patents seem to de facto work differently than the rest of the economy. This industry does have financial mechanisms for incubating patentable innovations, which is fortunate because developing the patented products is ridiculously expensive.) When I hear about patents being used these days, it's mostly as passive deterrence weapons in lawfare between giant corporations, or bad-faith patent trolls, and not as the basis of profitable production like you'd hear about in earlier times (again, except for pharmaceuticals).

So my guess is that something in the legal system changed to make patents not lucrative for most people, and the apparent lack of funding for patents is a rational response to that.

New Industries Come From Crazy People

There are of course tons and tons of R&D labs working on things with medium-term commercial applications, and the question is why so few of them get results as good as Edison's. More recent examples of hyperproductive labs like Xerox PARC, DARPA, and early Google suggest that this is still entirely possible, but it also seems difficult, fragile, and unlikely to maintain extreme productivity once the founder's attention is elsewhere. I haven't looked into these labs very deeply, but my understanding is that they all depended on a very specific culture which has never been made fully explicit and generally can't be replicated despite a number of attempts. This is usually a clue that someone with a rare combination of skills is engineering the social structure and troubleshooting idiosyncratic problems as they arise. (Compare to the stream of new practices in e.g. education that start off showing extreme potential but regress to the mean as soon as they scale past the visionary founder's personal management capacity.)

I'd be skeptical of the superforecasting lab specifically, because while these labs full of tinkerers have a very good track record for producing physical tech, offhand I can't think of a single good social tech that was developed in a lab built for that purpose. Probably better to have a few institutions try making internal prediction markets to guide real decisions, and see how it works. (IIRC Hanson has tried to get this to happen?)