Un radioso futuro (alle spalle)

Isaac Newton disse che aveva potuto vedere lontano grazie al fatto di stare “sulle spalle di giganti”. Ho l’ impressione che avrebbe potuto vedere ben poco se fosse stato costretto a pagare questo privilegio..

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction
himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his
taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.
That ideas should freely spread from one to another
over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of
man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have
been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature,
when she made them … like the air in which we
breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable
of confinement or exclusive appropriation

Thomas Jefferson

Alex Tabarrok: Launching the innovation renaissance

Per chi vuol capire il segreto di una società dinamica e innovativa, la cosa migliore è guardare alla Firenze del Rinascimento:

… Thus, in Florence, the epicenter of the Renaissance, we see five factors propelling that city’s innovation: patents, prizes, education, global markets, and cosmopolitanism, an openness to ideas from around the world…

Kang Duck-Bong

… il dinamismo pietrificato di Kang Duck-Bong è un monito eloquente…

La tentazione di liquidare il problema è forte: vuoi più innovazione? Rafforza i brevetti. Comincio allora con le conclusioni e tiro le somme sull’ utilità di questo strumento:

After hundreds of years of experience, there is surprisingly little evidence that patents actually do promote the progress of science and the useful arts…

Sono affermazioni pesanti, ma fatte sulla scorta di un attento vaglio dei dati… “nel nome della rosa”, per esempio:

roses are a good test for the power of patents because, whether they are patented or not, roses are registered so we have good data on rose innovation as well as on rose patents.9 In fact, a majority of new roses created between 1930 and 1970 — 84 percent in total — were never patented.10 Thus, most rose innovation is not due to patents, and even without patents we would have plenty of new roses…

Ma peggio sembrano i cosiddetti “brevetti difensivi”:

Defensive patenting, as this practice is called, is basically a waste. It’s a prisoner’s dilemma in which two (or more) firms spend resources patenting only in order to trade patent rights with each other — the same outcome that would happen under a system of weaker patent rights. 

Ma com’ è mai possibile che i brevetti non stimolino l’ innovazione?

Rather than increase innovation, however, firms with lots of patents seemed to decrease research and development.13 To understand why this might occur, imagine an industry where patents are weak and innovation is rapid, so firms must innovate just to survive. In this kind of environment, firms will not hesitate to introduce technologies even if the new technologies make their own previous technologies redundant. Firms innovate because they know that if they don’t, someone else will. In this kind of industry, instead of stimulating innovation strong patents may create a “resting on laurels” effect. A firm with strong patents may reduce innovation, secure in the knowledge that patents protect it.

Tutto risolto? Tutto chiarito? Magari, i brevetti funzionano piuttosto bene in molti settori (peccato):

Patents have a better track record for generating innovative pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical innovation is expensive; it costs about $1 billion to research and develop the average new drug.18 The costs of imitating a new drug, however, are very low. A billion dollars for the first pill, 50 cents for the second. As a result, it’s not surprising that the managers of pharmaceutical firms — unlike those in almost all other industries — report that patent protection is important for innovation.

In sintesi: i brevetti funzionano dove il rapporto tra costi d’ innovazione e costi d’ imitazione è particolarmente elevato. A questo punto qualcuno trasecola pensando ai “costi di copiatura”: è così facile copiare, basta dare una sbirciatina. Esatto? No:

Thomas Keller has been called the best chef in America. His restaurant, the French Laundry, is regularly listed among the world’s finest. There are only 14 tables so it’s nearly impossible to get a seat, and if you do get a seat, the prices are high. But why bother? In The French Laundry Cookbook Keller presents his exact recipes. Stay at home, follow the recipe, save yourself the time and trouble of traveling to Napa, and you can still enjoy a meal every bit as good as at the French Laundry. Convinced? I hope not. Imitation is not as easy as it appears even with an exact recipe. What is true about recipes and the French Laundry is also true about innovation in general.

Inventare contemporaneamente all’ insaputa dell’ altro sembra una coincidenza sbalorditiva. Tutt’ altro:

In reality, the majority of patent cases do not involve copying but independent invention.23 In the paradigmatic patent case the alleged infringer not only doesn’t copy the patented idea, the alleged infringer doesn’t even know that a patent on the idea exists. Independent invention is common. Well-known cases
include Newton and Leibniz with the calculus and Alexander Graham Bell, Elisha Gray and Johann Philipp Reis with the telephone. We think that Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler worked together to produce the gasoline-powered
automobile, but they never met. Their invention was simultaneous (Daimler-Benz became a company only years later). If independent invention i  the norm for worldclass innovations, is it any surprise that independent invention is the norm for more ordinary innovation?

Ora sappiamo che spesso i brevetti non stimolano l’ innovazione; resta da affrontare i casi più paradossali: quelli in cui la riducono!

In addition to often being unnecessary, patents can reduce innovation. In many industries, innovation is a
cumulative process with new innovations building on older innovations. The problem is that under a strong patent
regime, old innovators can block new competitors. Instead of promoting innovation, patents have become a way to veto innovation. In the software, semiconductor and biotech sectors, for example, a new product can require the use of hundreds or even thousands of previous patents, giving each patent owner veto-power over innovation…

Per altri i brevetti assolvono a una funzione rilevante… che non è “innovare”, bensì per “litigare”:

In 2011 Apple, HTC, RIM, Nokia and Google were all suing one another in various combinations over patent rights to smartphone technology… To protect themselves from thousands of potential veto threats, big firms like Google, Microsoft and Apple have gone on a patent buying spree, paying billions for patent arsenals. Firms aren’t buying the arsenals to gain access to new technology. They are buying old patents so that they can threaten to counter-sue any firm trying to veto their innovation…

E in tutto questo bailamme, chi ci rimette le penne?

Small firms are often the source of radical innovation, the type of innovation that threatens big firms, so the rise of the patent arsenal could decrease truly important innovations.

Poi ci sono i brevetti sui “mezzi” per innovare, il caso dei topolini brevettati per sperimentare medicinali contro il cancro è esemplare:

What the tale of the OncoMouse tells us is that patents in research tools and fields with cumulative innovation can be much costlier than patents for consumer products. A patent on a new toaster, a new rose or even a new pharmaceutical will reduce the consumption of these products, but a patent on a new mouse reduces new ideas.


Innovators need time to recoup their sunk costs, but why should every useful, non-obvious and novel idea be granted a 20-year patent? Maximizing innovation requires treating different industries differently.

Pensiamo ora a qualche soluzione: innanzitutto meglio brevettare le cose piuttosto che le idee:

Edison famously said “genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”31 A patent system should reward the 99 percent perspiration, not the 1 percent inspiration. In inventing the light bulb, for example, Edison laboriously experimented with some 6,000 possible materials for the filament before hitting upon bamboo. If Edison were to patent the light bulb today, he would not need to go to such lengths. Instead, Edison could patent the use of an “electrical resistor for the production of electromagnetic radiation,” a patent that would have covered oven elements as well as light bulbs… Broad claims reduce the incentives of future inventors to invest the sunk costs that are necessary to create actual working products. What has happened in recent decades is that the patent court has allowed much broader claims, and just as the 1895 Supreme Court described, this has created injustice and discouraged innovation…

Proseguiamo con i premi:

On April 4, 2004, SpaceShipOne rocketed more than 100 kilometers into space, launching private space exploration into the 21st century and winning Burt Rutan and his team the $10 million Ansari X-Prize. After falling into disuse in the 20th century, prizes have seen a resurgence in the 21st…

Cosa c’ è che non va con i premi:

The major vice of a prize fund is that it replaces a decentralized process for rewarding innovation with a political process. Under patents, many thousands of medical consumers decide which products to buy or not buy, generating a flow of payments that in sum total rewards producers for medical innovation. No one person
or group is in charge of deciding which pharmaceuticals to reward or by how much to reward them. In contrast, under a prize fund both the size of the innovation fund and how it is divided became political decisions… The Medical Innovation Prize Fund, as a mandatory replacement for patents, has two problems: It’s a) difficult to estimate the true value of a patent and b) difficult to avoid politicization of the reward process…


The economist Michael Kremer has made a clever proposal that avoids both of these problems.44 Kremer suggests that patents be auctioned, much like electromagnetic spectrum bands or timber licenses are auctioned today. In an open auction with plenty of bidders, the winning bid will be a good estimate of the true value of the patent. In Kremer’s proposal, after holding the auction the government will then roll, say, a 10-sided die. Nine times out of 10 the patent would not be sold to the high bidder but to the government at the auction price plus a markup.

Altra soluzione: puntare sull’ intelligenza delle persone. Ora come ora andiamo malino, persino nella patria che da sempre accoglie i cervelli migranti:

Productivity means working smarter, getting more from the same inputs of labor and capital. From 1947 to about 1973 productivity increased rapidly; we were working smarter and getting the benefits in the post-WWII boom. Beginning around 1973, however, productivity grew more slowly and more of our economic growth came from working harder; for example, from increasing the share of women in the workforce. Nothing wrong with hard work, but if productivity had continued to grow along the 1947-1973 trend then wages today would be more than 50% higher than they are now. In terms of innovation, if productivity had continued to grow along the 1947-1973 trend then we would be living today in the world of 2076 instead of the world of 2011. The post-1973 period has been called the Great Stagnation…

Dobbiamo cominciare con l’ ammettere che oggi l’ università è sopravvalutata, persino nella patria delle università:

College has been oversold, and in the process the amount of education actually going on in college has declined as colleges have dumbed down classes and inflated grades to accommodate students who would be better off in apprentice and on-the-job training programs. As the number of students attending college has grown, the number of workers with university education but high school jobs has increased. Baggage porters and bellhops don’t need college degrees, but in 2008 17.4 percent of them had at least a bachelor’s degree and 45 percent had some college education… More than half of the college graduates in the humanities end up in jobs that do not require a college degree. Not surprisingly, these graduates do not get a big “college bonus.”…

Paradosso: vanno meglio i paesi che hanno puntato su diplomi e scuole professionali:

It may seem odd that at the same time that the United States is failing to get people through high school, it is also pushing too many students into college. But let’s compare the situation with Germany’s. As we said earlier, 97 percent of German students graduate from high school, but only a third of these students go on to college. In the United States we graduate fewer students from high school, but nearly two-thirds of those we graduate go to college, almost twice as many as in Germany.73 So are German students undereducated? Not at all…

E poi ricordate: non conta la laurea (a volte nemmeno dove la prendete): conta il tipo di laurea:

American students are also not studying the fields with the greatest potential for increasing economic growth. In 2009 the U.S. graduated 37,994 students with bachelor’s degrees in computer and information science. Not bad, but here is the surprise: We graduated more students with computer science degrees 25 years ago! In comparison, the U.S. graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts in 2009 — more than double the number of 25 years ago! Figure three shows some of the relevant data. Few fields have been as revolutionized in recent years as microbiology, but in 2009 we graduated just 2,480 students with bachelor’s degrees in microbiology — about the same number as 25 years ago. Who will solve the problem of antibiotic resistance? There is nothing wrong with the arts, psychology and journalism, but graduates in these fields are less likely to
find work in their field than graduates in computer science, microbiology and chemical engineering…

Rischiamo di perderci il meglio, per evitaro: puntare sull’ immigrazione qualificata:

The U.S. policy toward high-skill immigrants is truly bizarre. Annually we allow approximately 120,000 employment visas, which cover people of extraordinary ability, professionals with advanced degrees, and other skilled workers. The number is absurdly low for a country with a workforce of 150 million. As a result, it can be years, even decades, before a high-skilled individual is granted a U.S. visa…

Altra soluzione: migliori insegnanti, migliori studenti, migliore società… capite bene il brivido che ci percorre quando si viene a sapere che:

Teachers used to come from the top ranks of their college classes, but today 47 percent of America’s teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes…

Innovazione contro welfare-warfare:

But at the level of government, the innovation nation competes with the warfare and welfare state

innovation welfarewarfare

E’ forse questo uno stato che mette l’ innovazione al suo centro?

Altro freno: le regole. Esempio nel campo delle costruzioni:

Building in the United States today, for example, requires navigating a thicket of environmental, zoning and aesthetic regulations that vary not only state by state but also county by county. If building a house is difficult, try building an airport. Passenger travel has more than tripled since deregulation in 1978, but in that time only one major new airport has been built, namely, Denver’s. That airport is now the fourth busiest in the world. Indeed the top seven busiest airports are all in the United States, not so much because we are big but because without new construction we are forced to overcrowd our existing infrastructure.89 The result is delays and inefficiency. Meanwhile, China is building 50 to 100 new airports over the next 10 years.

Da dove arriverà l’ innovazione di domani:

Education is stagnating in the United States but booming in China. In 1998, Chinese universities were accepting a million new students a year; today it’s closer to 6 million. Needless to say, Chinese students are not majoring in dance and sociology; 41 percent of the undergraduate degrees and 50 percent of the graduate degrees are in science and engineering. There are now more scientists and engineers in China than in the United States.

Più consumatori di idee, più idee:

The United States benefits not just from more idea creators in China, India and the rest of the world but also from more idea consumers. Recall the problem of rare diseases. People with a rare disease are doubly unlucky: They have a disease and only a few people with whom to share the costs of developing a cure. Misery loves company because company can help pay for research and development. More consumers mean a greater willingness to pay for ideas, ideas that benefit the world. Consider, if China and India were as rich as the United States is now, the market for cancer drugs would be 8.3 times as large as it is now. Larger markets mean greater incentives to invest in research and development, and that means more innovation.

Tirando le somme, ecco allora la ricetta per un problema che in realtà non puo’ avere ricette: puntare solo sui brevetti è illusorio, bisogna innovare le politiche dell’ innovazione ricorrendo a premi, aste e quant’ altro; insegnanti, abbiamo bisogno di voi, sveglia! Finché rattrappite sotto l’ ala del sindacato sarete sempre inservibili, sottopagati e vittime di uno strisciante disprezzo sociale; l’ università di massa è un tappo: più selezione, più diplomi qualificati e più scuola professionale per liberare le accademie; rivedere a fondo il sistema di immigrazione per favorire i talenti che vengono da fuori; welfare e innovazione sono come botte piena e moglie ubriaca: decidiamo cosa vogliamo essere e dove vogliamo investire; anche le regole migliori, quando si cumulano, ostruiscono l’ azione dei più innovativi; costruire un unico mondo, un unico mercato, è la cosa migliore per avere “idee uniche”.


… brevetto Gillette…


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