Who are inventors?

by S&M

There are many types of success other than patent filing, but this map still might interest folks on the blog.

Invention, place, and economic inclusion

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63 thoughts on “Who are inventors?

  1. My county has a high rate of patent applications, in part because there are lots of inventions to be made but in even larger part because locking up possible ideas is part of a larger war among tech companies. It would be interesting to see further work into how many patents translate into useful/meaningful advances for society, which of necessity would be subjective. Jonas Salk didn’t patent his polio vaccine.

    I disagree with the author’s categorization of “white” and “non-white” as key categories for analysis. I’m curious as to how much race (where Hispanic, Asian and African American are broken out separately) affects inventiveness after family socioeconomic status is controlled for.

    Over a couple decades of observing the recruitment of PhD’s, I’ve observed that they are disproportionately upper middle class because they have parents who could provide some level of financial support (even if just the promise of assistance with medical bills in a crisis and a place to live in the summer) well into their 20’s, when they were in grad school. Even before this article, I’ve been wondering if the ACA’s provision of medical insurance to age 26 will expand the ranks of middle/working class PhD’s.

    The article didn’t list the point at which it defined 80th percentile household income, but one article I found said $112k in the past 2 years.

    I’ll reiterate something I’ve observed before, which is that the problem is not so much inventions is people who can work in teams to bring inventions to market profitably in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex regulatory environment.

  2. Here is the context to WCE’s comment claiming that race is somehow separated out as a “key” category for analysis (this is the only mention of it in the article, which focuses more on effects of income and of growing up around inventors.)
    “Overall, children who are white, rich, male, and exposed to invention early in life are much more likely to invent than children who are non-white, poor, female, and socially and geographically isolated from innovation.”

  3. I think WCE is correct in that where you have companies that benefit by obtaining patents and reward employees for obtaining them, you will see a higher volume. Again, how many of these make it to market or are profitable is a different issue.

    I do think that education is a partial issue especially in the area of sciences. If school focuses on learning through hands on problem solving (experimentation) rather than memorization of material, you are setting the students mind set toward invention. Also, money is an issue. If you are in a low income area, you generally do not see a lot of extra-curricular activities like robotics, nor do you see as much in-school experiements (my DDs builds catapaults – big enough to throw basketballs) that require supplies or equipment (either in quantity or type) that is costly.

  4. Yeah, so, I am wondering if we have the tail wagging the dog here. I think we all have the vision of the brilliant inventor, that absent-minded-professor type of holes up in his garage or basement and appears twelve years later with a flux capacitor. But from what I’ve seen, many patents appear to be issued to people doing advanced tech work for (i) industry, (ii) the government, and (iii) universities — and most of the patents are for fairly minor improvements. I mean, DH has a half-dozen or more himself.

    So I suspect that when you measure by “number of patents applied for/issued,” you’re not measuring “inventiveness” — you’re measuring “people who have the characteristics necessary to get advanced degrees followed by jobs with big companies, the government, or universities.” Which historically, has been largely smart white men from UMC families who grew up in areas where that is seen as a viable/good career choice.

    I note also that the data set is 1996-2014. Would be interested to see whether/how the demographic breakdown changes over time.

  5. When I think of inventors in the non traditionaI sense, I think of business processes, financial products, payment systems. On this board I gathered that SoFL Mom invented something in the financial world and there was someone else who said they invented something similar. I would like to know more.

  6. At one place my partner worked, every patent resulted in a bonus. If you were the only name on the patent, you got the full amount; if it was a multi-person patent, you split the bonus money. People in some areas of the company, as LfB notes, where there was low hanging fruit or their work was more patentable, employees could add 25 to 50% to their salary each year. This incentive did encourage a patent for those fairly minor improvements and well as internal competition to get the problem solved first and/or with fewer people to get more bonus money.

  7. Patents are a very poor measure of innovation in the software industry. Software is usually copyrighted (or copylefted, aka open source licensed, a category that includes much or our most important software such as the original browsers, Apache, etc). There is a lot of controversy surrounding the enforceability of software patents and some large companies grab patents on algorithms they didn’t even invent. So this is very flawed when it comes to measuring the background of people who innovate in software, which is a key area of innovation these days

  8. Laura, so it’s measuring who has access to all the things you mention (which I wouldn’t call “characteristics”, because most of them are not intrinsic). How is that backwards? Note that the article title includes the phrase “economic inclusion”.

  9. I thought the tone of the article was also reflected in this quote. ” First, it reinforces a growing body of evidence that United States remains far from providing equality of opportunity to all kids—in this case the opportunity to share in the fruits of invention—which is itself a collective moral failure.”

    I didn’t see any evidence that the U.S. was better or worse than other countries at providing opportunity to all kids, or that the opportunity provided by public schools is unequal (though I think it might be, so I expect we’ll see wealthy New England school districts consolidating any day to become more socioeconomically diverse). I also don’t see any evidence of collective moral failure.

    I see the evidence as demonstrating the importance of parenting and spending time with one’s children in order to impart one’s values and skills, whether those are in inventiveness or another area. At the twins’ preschool, the daughter of the counselor was aware of the cliques, who played with whom and who might be feeling left out. My twins were considered socially adequate when they didn’t clobber anyone. Clearly, Mr WCE and I are not very good at imparting empathy to our children, compared to the counselor parent.

    In a previous discussion, we discussed the importance of spatial ability to invention. I’ve mentioned my undying affection for Trio blocks (we have a ton and I’m saving them all), which was how DS1 learned to translate a 2D series of pictures into a 3D model. I’d like to see schools teach that skill more, which is especially important in the trades. Instead, reading instruction focuses on literature and understanding/analyzing information.

  10. “or that the opportunity provided by public schools is unequal (though I think it might be, so I expect we’ll see wealthy New England school districts consolidating any day to become more socioeconomically diverse).”

    Have you forgotten all my complaining over the years?

  11. WCE, have you not looked at the map, or are you saying that everyone in the South is a bad parent? It sounds as if you think we have to choose between either the ability to analyze information or the ability to think spatially. Why?

    Cordelia, I don’t know what you’ve complained about.

  12. “How is that backwards?”

    So, argh, this is now the second post today I have managed to delete irretrievably with the swipe of an as-yet-unidentified keyboard button. But to try to re-create: I think the analysis begs the question. It defines “invent” as “apply for/obtain a patent”; but because most patents are developed by BigCorp or BigU, it is just telling us who has historically been hired by BigCorp or BigU. Which, surprise, is many smart wealthy white guys. The chosen metric determines the results; there’s no revelation here about “inventors,” about what makes “inventors” different/special, or about how women/minorities/non-UMC are being specifically disadvantaged in these areas. It’s telling us what we already know, with a different name on top.

    And in terms of the chosen metric, I think “patent applications” is both over- and under-inclusive in measuring “invention.” I think most corporate patents are useless churn, as everyone races to file on more and more minute “inventions” to protect their ability to sue their competitors and/or defend themselves against their competitors’ lawsuits. And on the flip side, I think many real inventions that have meaningfully changed how we live today are not addressed via the patent system at all — as Mooshi says, many are now being done through copyright, and many more are addressed through trade secrets (e.g., the formula for Coca-Cola). Patent law has the problem of (a) short exclusivity periods compared to copyright (and trade secrets = forever, as long as you can keep it secret), and (b) the requirement that you actually publish the details of what you discovered, which allows everyone overseas in places with zero patent protection to copy your inventions and undercut your prices.

  13. S&M

    My kids go to a diverse school system. I have complained over the years about the incompetence of the teachers, the active malice of the principal, who we finally got rid of a few years ago. He decided that all incoming freshman would take remedial science classes instead of biology. He also go rid of honors English and prevented the junior high from offer foriegn language.

    It has been a multiyear rant.

  14. In my state, with the exception of the yellow to the west, the inventors are located in our major metropolitan areas. The yellow to the west, I can’t quite tell if that is just oil patch or also includes a major university that is in that general vicinity.

    I don’t know how you test “invention” outside of patentable things. For example, our HVAC repairman is a genius. He extended the life of our system by modifying a certain part we needed himself. He couldn’t guarantee it, but that $100 kept it going another 6 years. Others who looked at it all said, we can’t get the part, you’ll have to replace it. He said, we can buy a similar part, modify it and it should work. He didn’t find something new or create something new, but I think he embodied the characteristics of what an inventor would.

  15. saac, false dichotomy: I have looked at the map. I am not arguing that every single parent in the South is a bad parent.

  16. “The map really makes me wonder what is going on in Northwest Nevada.”

    That area is pretty sparsely populated, which would suggest that a single prolific inventor born in that area could raise the rate for that area.

  17. Finn, the Davidson Institute is located in Reno, NV.

    Yes, but the dark orange square doesn’t really correspond with Reno.

  18. What is the difference between this map and a map showing the location of the top 25 research universities? Or major metro areas with high levels of education? Or areas with high percentages of white/Asian residents? Looking at NC, there is a red blob in the Research Triangle area, for example. The red blob in Texas is Austin? The DC metro area is red, as is Boston.

  19. What is the difference between this map and a map showing the location of the top 25 research universities?

    The map lists where the inventors were grew up not where they went to school.

  20. The map lists where the inventors were grew up not where they went to school.

    Which makes the dark orange spot in northwestern Nevada really weird. That is the Black Rock Desert where they hold Burning Man

  21. “What is the difference between this map and a map showing the location of the top 25 research universities?”

    Is there a top 25 research university in the Alaska panhandle?

    I suspect something similar to NW Nevada is going on there.

  22. That is the Black Rock Desert where they hold Burning Man

    Maybe it’s like that county in Texas with 85 people. There is one guy from there who has 100 patents so it skews the numbers?

  23. Or, should I say (with a pop of 85) one guy with one patent would be enough to skew the numbers.

  24. “The map lists where the inventors were grew up not where they went to school.”

    Yes, but those who grew up in university communities, with parents employed by universities and classmates with same may be more likely to have the genes and environmental encouragement to pursue a scientific or engineering career. Otherwise, how to explain the blobs of red in NC and Texas? The spots in Alaska or Nevada may be skewed samples as you point out. IOW, this map seems to be telling us what we already know about high academic achievement.

  25. more likely to have the genes and environmental encouragement to pursue a scientific or engineering career.

    Right, the question posed by the author is what can be done to encourage all the “lost Einsteins” in the South.

  26. The University of Alabama is doing it’s fair share to turn the tide.

    I have to see what can be done to boost the city campus of UNC. The nerve of the folks in Raleigh ! Sucking up the best minds !

  27. “Right, the question posed by the author is what can be done to encourage all the “lost Einsteins” in the South.”

    Send them off to boarding school?

    “North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics is the nation’s first public residential high school focused on science, technology, engineering, and math.
    We challenge and inspire talented students from across North Carolina through a residential campus, online program, summer STEM enrichment programs, and distance offerings for schools and educators.”

    https://www.ncssm.edu/

  28. “The University of Alabama is doing it’s [sic] fair share to turn the tide.”

    Very clever.

    Yes, it will be interesting to see how UA’s (RT) academic recruiting efforts change the state and the Tuscaloosa area. In 30 to 50 years, will there be a dark red spot in around Tuscaloosa?

    The two splashes of color in the ‘deep south’ appear to be around Atlanta and Huntsville.

  29. So, how do the researchers know what the inventors scores were on a standardized test in third grade?

  30. It is probably because they had creepy Pearson, or some similar company sell them the test scores.

    just curious…are your schools closed tomorrow? Our district keeps the schools are open, and all of the schools are polling places along with churches, train stations etc. There is no early voting in NY, so it does actually get crowded during a presidential election year.

  31. Cordelia, they do it by leaping gracefully from conclusion to conclusion without a whole lot of support. Go read the original article.

    We shed light on these alternative mechanisms by using data from all individuals who went through the New York City (NYC) public school system between 1989 and 2009, from which we have standardized data on test score results in grades 3 through 8. We show that only around 30% of the invention gap between rich and poor can be accounted for by third grade math test scores.

    So based ONLY on data from the NYC public school system, they then draw their conclusions about all inventors because rich people and poor people are all alike. Or something.

  32. For the analysis in which we study parental income, we can only look at a sub-sample of the IRS data for adults who are born after 1980, the earliest cohort for which we have sufficient records to match them to parents through 1040 forms that record dependents. For years when parents file tax returns, we calculate parents’ income as the pre-tax household income; we gather parent income from W2 and other information returns in years when a parent does not file. Further details on the process of matching children to parents are outlined in Chetty et al. (2014b). Looking at the sample of individuals born 1980-84 who would be aged 28-32 in 2012 we still have a substantial sample of 45,083 inventors. This focus on “young” inventors may seem a disadvantage, but 13% of patents in our data are invented by those aged 32 or under. We also show our results are robust to using older cohorts from the Statistics of Income, which is a 0.1% sample of the IRS data available for years prior to 1996.

    And 87% of your patents are invented by those aged 33 and older. Sheesh.

  33. General election day is a state holiday here, and thus is also a public school holiday. I think most of the private schools don’t have it as a holiday.

  34. We have an all-mail election now so there are no polling stations, just drop off locations. Even before the all-mail elections they didn’t use schools as polling places.

  35. My kids don’t have school tomorrow, but my husband’s district (three towns over) does. I voted early, but I’ll still take the kids to our local polling place tomorrow so that we can buy things from the bake sale. The PTO-run bake sale is always one of my favorite parts of election day.

  36. School open and many are polling places. I like to vote on Election Day, so I’ll try at 7 am when they open, but if the line is long, I will go on to my exercise class and then work and return about 3 pm. 7 am is tricky as school starts at 7:45 and before school care has already started. My election day polling place usually doesn’t have much turnout. But, we’ll see!

  37. I’m waiting to vote. My polling place has a few districts. My district has a long line, and I’ve been here for 20 minutes so far. The other districts have no lines. Since they use PAPER books to look ups name, they can’t send you to a shorter line. This process in NY needs a makeover because the poll workers can’t see or look up names.

    I counted 23 people ahead of me when I arrived, but I’m still seeing 12 people in this line ahead even though 20 minutes have passed. No photo ID, so you just sign your name. Pure incompetence and frustration to start my day.

  38. Lauren – I posted on the other thread. I don’t vote early because early voting lines are always long whereas on Election Day in my designated precinct the line is short and process is smooth.

  39. I don’t even get a polling place. I had to mail in my ballot.

    Jeez, how far out in the Valley do you live, anyway?

    As Denver said, we mail in or drop off our ballots now, and I like that fine. But seems as if you should have a polling place if you’re not in an all-mail-in state.

  40. Schools closed today, although I think only the ES is an actual polling place. DH was Voter #1 this AM; I went to crossfit and so am now waiting for what I hope will be a less popular time (while working around DS’s follow-up appt for his broken finger). I think it will be hard to focus on work today — much anxious waiting.

  41. As Denver said, we mail in or drop off our ballots now, and I like that fine. But seems as if you should have a polling place if you’re not in an all-mail-in state.

    I agree. We were redistricted into a different supervisorial district, so we don’t have a polling place, and didn’t get to vote in the primary for our county officials.

  42. We were redistricted into a different supervisorial district, so we don’t have a polling place, and didn’t get to vote in the primary for our county officials.

    Wait — that’s crazy. Shouldn’t that be illegal?

  43. Wait — that’s crazy. Shouldn’t that be illegal?

    It is that old thing between incompetence and malice. I don’t know. One of the people running for supervisor insisted that we were in his district. Our election materials said we werent. Turns out he was right, he didn’t make it past the primary. He would be vastly superior to either of our options.

    There have been a lot of problems with votes not being counted and with misinformation about the right polling place/right ballot.

    It is frustrating to hear that there aren’t problems with voting, e.g. accessibility and with people voting in the wrong place. I understand that I live in the keystone cops version of public service competence, but I have a hard time believing that this is the only place like this.

  44. I wonder if NY would ever change the process to vote if the state was a toss up in national elections. There doesn’t seem to be any motivation to change the process like they did in Florida. I am sure it is expensive and would take years to study any changes to make sure it is fair. It took the state years to get rid of ancient voting machines with levers, but I wonder why they hand on to the paper sign books with someone next to the person hand writing each vote name and address again.

    I was happy to find out that my grandmother voted via absentee ballot. I think it is cool that women didn’t even have the right to vote when she was born, and a woman is now on the ballot.

  45. DH walked to the ES at 6:45 and it took him an hour to vote. I popped over at 9:30 and there were only 10 other people voting and was in and out in 5 minutes. We only have school off for presidential election years.

  46. I’m signed up to give people rides to the polls. If I get any calls, I think I’ll wear a pants suit ;)

  47. “I think it is cool that women didn’t even have the right to vote when she was born, and a woman is now on the ballot.”

    More than one woman on the ballot just for POTUS.

  48. Finn, women have been on the ballot for POTUS before, but not as the candidate for a major party.

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