Here is an interesting short bit from FastCompany – Patent Director: “Patent Filings Do Not Equal Innovation,” U.S. Needs New Measure. According to this short piece:
David Kappos, director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, says the United States needs new ways to measure innovation and also to give fast-track status to green technologies.
First, Kappos says his office is looking at new ways of measuring innovation. After all, open-source software, which explicitly rejects traditional intellectual property rights, powers large parts of the technology industry, such as the Android mobile operating system. Additionally, corporations often take out huge pre-emptive patents to prevent competition from forming.
“Patent filings do not equal innovation, by any stretch,” says Kappos. While his solution to the problem may not completely satisfy those eager to see the United States move beyond the patent paradigm, Kappos is pressing experts and universities to come up with new measures of innovation, such as job creation and job growth that arise from a particular idea.
While I applaud efforts by the PTO to look for broader measures of innovation, I hope they won’t be re-inventing the wheel. Specifically, I would also draw everyone’s attention to our March 2009 White Paper on Frameworks for Measuring Innovation: Initial Approaches. This paper presents two frameworks for measurement: of innovation activity by measuring the intangible assets that are created by and fed back into the innovation process; and of innovation investments, especially the broader investments that set the stage for innovation. In addition, the paper provides an illustrative set of data sources for both frameworks. It utilizes and builds on the discussion of innovation published in an earlier report by the authors for the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) – Measuring Innovation and Intangibles: A Business Perspective (also available on the Athena Alliance website). Both papers provide important guides for future research, especially in the development of future data sources.
Second, I would urge Kappos to take a look at the work done previously in the Commerce Department on this — specifically the 2008 report of the Measuring Innovation in the 21st Century Economy Advisory Committee. That report was not the end all and be all on US innovation metrics (see my earlier comments). But it was a good starting point and something to build on.
Finally, I would note that the RFI for comments on the Administration’s innovation strategy (see earlier posting) asks specifically for comments on the implications of changes in the innovative process. Understanding those changes is critical to any measurement activity. If you don’t understand the innovation process, you don’t know what to measure. Our current innovation metrics (resources (money and personnel) into to R&D and patents out) is a direct function of the still lingering view of innovation as a linear process (from basic science to product). A more realistic and nuanced view of innovation will help formulate better metrics.
From his comments, it appears that David Kappos understands that. I hope he can build on that understanding — and on the work already done to date.