All of ejz's Comments + Replies

Why Patents? The History and Evidence

Digital IP is kind of interesting because IP is a creature of Congress. It isn't like real property where there is a common law basis for it exactly (though many parts of the doctrine come from common law, like fair use). So basically it is up to Congress to determine what the right social mix is. With digital IP clearly there are some things that should remain IP and that doesn't change just because the form changes (like stealing a movie) but there are aspects where the ease of replication may cause us to want to change the balance of some of these right... (read more)

Why Patents? The History and Evidence

These are all great points. But I have to say I don't agree that the question is whether patents are required for the formation of a corporation because that excludes a lot of R&D that might be done by an existing corporation. Maybe the best way to put it is whether it increases the share of R&D invested in science and technology. These are all so tricky to measure; "invention" is abstract, but R&D includes, for example, buying servers.

For what it's worth, I don't think that the evidence of multiple inventions is devastating for capital formati... (read more)

2Michael Frank Martin5moJust found this tidbit in the biography of the first patent commissioner Henry Ellsworth: "Acting as Patent Commissioner, Ellsworth made a decision that profoundly affected the future of Hartford and Connecticut. The young Samuel Colt was struggling to establish a firm to manufacture his new revolver. Ellsworth became interested in Colt's invention, and in 1836 made the decision to issue Colt U.S. Patent No. 138. On the basis of Ellsworth's decision, Colt was able to raise some $200,000 from investors to incorporate the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company of Paterson, New Jersey, the forerunner of the mighty Colt arms manufacturing empire." [] +1 for the primacy of the role of patents as an institution for attracting capital that would otherwise be impossible to attract
1Michael Frank Martin5moWe may have a legit disagreement about the role of patents in supporting the funding of at least certain types of R&D. The Bayh-Dole Act appears to have created a comparative advantage for universities and government labs in funding R&D. Is that the best model? There are reasonable arguments that it is not. But so long as universities and government labs have tech transfer offices, I'm dubious about curiosity driven R&D getting funded by for-profit corporations. Anyway the US market doesn't appear to support it the way it did before the 1980s. But if you believe startups are doing curiosity driven research, then we're talking about different things. For me, curiosity driven research is literally curiosity driven with no obvious expectation of commercial use. I don't believe patents are either necessary or sufficient to funding this kind of research, which is sometimes called basic science. I was exaggerating the weight of the evidence of multiple inventions a little in arguing against the need for patents to support scientific discoveries, but not much. I note that even in responding to this point, you reach for the desire to "help[] companies attract financing or just providing more capital" as beneficial. But that's where we agree patents and licensing are socially beneficial. The question is whether they're necessary or beneficial to get to the point where attracting capital makes sense. I'm arguing no because the history of science and engineering demonstrates that fundamental breakthroughs are not predictable enough to be funded commercially. AT&T and IBM were able to do it because they were monopolies at a scale that hasn't been replicated since then. So we agree that inventors invent because that's who they are. We both want to ensure we have inventors, and that they get compensated well enough to ensure we get the benefit of their work. But who are these inventors? Are they scientists who we also want to teach and publish their discoveries? Are they engin
ejz's Shortform

I'm working on an essay on patents and progress. Does anyone want to give it a read and give me some feedback?

It’s Time for Greater San Francisco

Funny enough, Chicago didn't have a dramatic consolidation, but it is the result of a lot of annexation. During the failed 1912 SF consolidation, Chicago was also held up as an example of a successful consolidation. Toronto consolidated in the 1990s. So it can still happen.

Transit is challenging. As I talk about in the piece, I don't think that every consolidation makes sense. You can't say "it's all integrated" or "there's regional rail, so become one city!" and free-riding is a timeless problem. SF is is somewhat unique at this point in time in how uniqu... (read more)

It’s Time for Greater San Francisco

I think awareness this is an option is an important part. It's also a multi-step process where I think you can have multiple parts. Maybe consolidate the police department and the many transit agencies. Perhaps some of the smaller towns into some of the bigger cities. 

The most important part is just that the conditions need to already exist. There's already a cultural connection and integrated economy. The legal conditions are already there. Now we just need to build political will over a decade+ with an organized, if quiet, movement with small steps over time.

We Should Break Up Elite Colleges

One interesting thing: when you look at the “best” colleges for specific subjects say 80 years ago it seems like there was more heterogeneity and small colleges with some specialty. Today the best colleges are all “the best” at every subject.

Is Innovation in Human Nature?

Funny, growing up in the US we’re taught a version of human history that centralizes technology. We’re taught that what makes Australopithecus special was walking and inventing stone tools, homo erectus is inventing fire, and so on. Invention is almost framed as what makes us human!

Draft for comment: Ideas getting harder to find does not imply stagnation

Good point, though I don't find looking at a selection of areas as too convincing. I could just as easily choose areas with consistent exponential growth that I would guess don't look like this, like solar panels or genome sequencing. Even if things were getting better on average you would expect some things to get less efficient over time too. (for example, think about that inflation components chart people share all the time)

One last thing: we would probably want to look at output and not inputs. Robert Gordon's sort-of nemesis, Chad Syverson, has done w... (read more)

1jasoncrawford2yWell, the point of a lot of this is to look at outputs as a function of inputs. That is what Bloom 2020 is looking at. You need some measure of inputs (they basically use R&D spending, deflated by the wage rate) and some measure of output (GDP, transistor density, crop yields, etc.) and then you figure out the quantitative relationship. If solar panels or genome sequencing don't look like this, that would be very interesting! My guess would be that they do.
Draft for comment: Ideas getting harder to find does not imply stagnation

One thing I'd like to see is a discussion of the potential for measurement error. For example, software is notably deflationary yet we don't see that in the statistics due to how we count. (We still don't really know how to value the contribution of software to GDP.) Bloom (2020) may just be measuring the wrong outputs for the current type of progress. For example, if publications or patents are a weaker signal for ideas than in the past, the methodology breaks down.

1jasoncrawford2yI agree in general about the measurement challenge. However, one strength of Bloom (2020) is that they look at a variety of areas using different metrics: Moore's law, agricultural productivity, etc. (They don't really look at patents, in part because it's hard to know what patents mean/represent.) In any case, it's not just GDP. The fact that there are similar patterns across different metrics is evidence that there's something real going on. Holden Karnofsky [] and Scott Alexander [] go further, albeit with less solid quantitative support, and extend the pattern to art and general human accomplishment. E.g., here's Scott (this comes right after the block quote above):
Why doesn't progress seem to propagate?

I know it but it’s still pretty specific to the technologies and products the author is interested in. I’m more interested in a general question of: there are a number of technologies where the implementation barriers seem nontechnical, and it seems like it’s getting worse. Curious why.

1Maxwell Tabarrok2yHe uses specific case studies but the book definitely synthesizes general principles which can explain the nontechnical barriers in many technologies. Things like 'failures of nerve' and imagination and 'the Machiavelli effect' are illustrated with cases but are applicable to a wide range of technologies. Jason's summary is great but I really think you would enjoy the book. It's fun to read, not too long, and I think it is the most comprehensive answer to your question out there right now.
Why is there no equivalent of the VC industry, but for patentable inventions instead of startups?
Answer by ejzMay 11, 20225

The premise isn't exactly right here. There are venture backed companies that primarily develop and license IP, like Qualcomm, ARM, and RAMBUS. Plus, like, the entire biopharma industry. Sometimes companies make spinoffs that just hold IP for joint ventures with other companies. So this does happen; there just needs to be infrastructure to use the IP, like people to manage the licensing process and a corporation to actually hold the IP, since it always needs to be assigned to someone (IP cannot legally exist in the ether). Investors do also sometimes take ... (read more)