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Innovative Challenges

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Feb 25, 2011    •    664 Views

Is it likely that, with each new discovery, innovation gets tougher?

It might have been easier to identify an asteroid a century ago because the undiscovered ones were very big. It might have been simpler to find a new human organ; the last one, the parathyroid gland, was discovered in 1880. Similarly, developing plants with larger fruit gets to a point where incremental progress is smaller and smaller.  

So, where does this take us?

1. To teams. With discoveries becoming more complex, the “renaissance man” like Thomas Edison or Albert Einstein, no longer can know it all. Instead, scientists need to pool their expertise.

2. To a knowledge plateau. According to economist Tyler Cowen, because the “low hanging” fruit has been picked, it is ever more difficult to make the scientific breakthroughs that spearhead growth.

3. To a very busy patents office. With scientific teams submitting ever more complex research, it takes the patent office more expertise, more people, and more money to issue the patents that new firms frequently require.

4. To a President with a challenge. Saying in his State of the Union address that innovation is the key to future economic growth, President Obama now needs to determine the governmental incentives that will accelerate innovation. Economist Mike Mandel has several policy suggestions

The Economic Lesson

With Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 saying, “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limit Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries,” the US Constitution established the right to protect innovation.

Interestingly, although Hamilton and Jefferson did not entirely agree, both were involved with the first Patent Act in 1790.


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