Friday, December 09, 2011

A Rose Named 20175 Does Not Smell as Sweet

Would we get more or less innovation without patents? The rose that holds patent no 20175 tells us how little we need patents. The plants have been patentable in America since 1930. 16% of Rose varieties are now patented but this increase in protection to rose growers has not increased the variety of rose varieties.

Launching The Innovation Renaissance by Alex Tabarrok is a short €2 book I read on the bus into work. It details as well as the perils of rose patents other hindrences that block wider innovation

The argument against patents is that they give too much protection to innovators. That in covering too much that is too easily thought of they actually hinder people coming up with new products. I have not seen a coherent argument that (non pharmaceutical) patents have too little protection. Tabarrok does a moderate anti patent argument forward in a clear convincing way though.

Next Tabarrok argues we should have more prizes for innovation. I have a major brain erection for kaggle and science innovation prizes in general. Tabarrok makes a clear case that prizes should be used when new ideas are needed.

Many of the faults in education are also well laid out. "the value of a permanent 25-point increase in scores ...would be 80 trillion" ..."A 25 point increase would bring the united states from about the level of mathematics education in Ireland and Spain to the level in Germany and Australia" How are we in Ireland worse at maths than Australia? Australia is mainly populated with Irish people, and the ones with an unhealthily active interest in sports at that. We have no excuse for the Aussies beating us in Maths. The education section gives several good pieces of advise for Ireland. Pay teachers based on their subject. Pay them on results not just years served. Sponsor college courses that result in more innovation that increases the standard of living more than some of the liberal arts that don't. While on the subject there is a very good blog on Irish education from the teachers side at anseo.

Immigration of high skilled immigrants is discussed next. Again like patents a reasonable achievable change is suggested rather than fully free immigration. I think Ireland should go moneyball on this. Find undervalued players in the market and buy them for our team (this would mean letting persecuted people live here, but it is an argument for another time).

The main thrust of the book is that innovation matters. Instead of a welfare state dividing a pie it might be worth thinking of an innovation state that constantly tried to make things better and increase the size of the pie. This would involve fighting entrenched interests "Few people lobby for innovation because almost by definition, innovation creates present losers and future winners and the present winners are by far the more politically powerful".

The optimistic view that we have in our power to create new and amazing things infuses this book. It is about fixes rather than showing how bad the innovation problem is as Cowen's The Great Stagnation does. None of the suggestions are on the extreme side and all are clearly explained. Because of this I think this book is likely to provide a blueprint for many improvements in the near future.

The Irish times has an interview with Tabarrok here

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