How patents block innovation: just where you’d expect they would

Patents and Cumulative Innovation: Causal Evidence from the Courts
by Alberto Galasso, Mark Schankerman – #20269 (IO PR)

Cumulative innovation is central to economic growth. Do patent rights facilitate or impede follow-on innovation? We study the causal effect of removing patent rights by court invalidation on subsequent research related to the focal patent, as measured by later citations. We exploit random allocation of judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to control for endogeneity of patent invalidation. Patent invalidation leads to a 50 percent increase in citations to the focal patent, on average, but the impact is heterogeneous and depends on characteristics of the bargaining environment. Patent rights block downstream innovation in computers, electronics and medical instruments, but not in drugs, chemicals or mechanical technologies. Moreover, the effect is entirely driven by invalidation of patents owned by large patentees that triggers more follow-on innovation by small firms.

Open Data and the G20

OpenGovData Venn

From a recent column for the AFR. The report can be downloaded here.

Earlier this year our Treasurer, Joe Hockey, led the G20 Finance Ministers to pledge lifting GDP by 2 percent over ‘business as usual’ over the next five years. It’s a big win for the Treasurer, but how can it be delivered? There aren’t many easy options for reform on that scale that don’t create swathes of losers around whom the media then swarm, thus amplifying the inevitable campaigns against change.

But one opportunity is sitting under our noses. In a knowledge economy, data is the new infrastructure. The more open it is, the more it can be reused repurposed. The more it attracts value adding as business and civil society find clever new ways of making it ever more useful. Most data Google Maps delivers has existed for decades. But government open data policies – and Google – convey open data seamlessly to your mobile as you search out your target.

That’s why, Australia’s Government implemented the recommendations of the 2009 Government 2.0 Taskforce which I chaired. But in Australia as elsewhere, high-level commitments have achieved less than they could have if they’d been seamlessly translated down to the delivery coalface as Google has with geospatial data.

Omidyar Network today releases a Lateral Economics report that estimates that a more vigorous open data commitment could grow Australia’s economy by around $16 billion per year. That’s half Joe Hockey’s G20 growth target.

Continue reading

Clever new piece of work on what drove the industrial revolution

Human Capital and Industrialization: Evidence from the Age of

by Mara P. Squicciarini, Nico Voigtlaender – #20219 (DAE EFG)


While human capital is a strong predictor of economic development today, its importance for the Industrial Revolution is typically assessed as minor. To resolve this puzzling contrast, we differentiate average human capital (worker skills) from upper tail knowledge both theoretically and empirically. We build a simple spatial model, where worker skills raise the local productivity in a given technology, while scientific knowledge enables local entrepreneurs to keep up with a rapidly advancing technological frontier. The model predicts that the local presence of knowledge elites is unimportant in the pre-industrial era, but drives growth thereafter; worker skills, in contrast, are not crucial for growth. To measure the historical presence of knowledge elites, we use city-level subscriptions to the famous Encyclopedie in mid-18th century France. We show that subscriber density is a strong predictor of city growth after 1750, but not before the onset of French industrialization. Alternative measures of development confirm this pattern: soldier height and industrial activity are strongly associated with subscriber density after, but not before, 1750. Literacy, on the other hand, does not predict growth. Finally, by joining data on British patents with a large French firm survey from 1837, we provide evidence for the mechanism: upper tail knowledge raised the productivity in innovative industrial technology.

Windows, workplaces, job quality and productivity

Life is miserable: run, run, run

I’ve always been struck by how we debate flexibility in the labour market without paying attention to the other problem in the labour market which is that it’s extremely difficult to find out whether you’re really going to like a job until you take it, and then, if you don’t well it’s too late – lots of costs and general angst getting out and moving onto something better. (Will it be better, or just the same old, same old – I’d better stick it out where I am).

So I took the problem down to Troppo labs which came up with Windows on Workplaces which starred (not) at the 20:20 Summit. Hey why pay attention to something new when you can go with the same old same old same old same old Golden Gurus. (See the same article I just linked to.) The basic idea of Windows on Workplaces – quoted from the linked post is as follows:

Say you particularly value some aspect of a job you’re applying for – for instance a good career path, intrinsically rewarding work or flexible family friendly hours. If youre applying from outside the firm youre generally in the dark. . . .

Now firms regularly survey their employees regarding their satisfaction with these things. So it would be good if you could get a peek at their answers. [But] firstly, firms that did badly wouldn’t want to release their information. The second problem is trickier still. Even if you somehow compelled firms to release this data, their survey results cant be readily or reliably compared because they’re not reported against some common standard. I propose . . . not that governments mandate some standard, but rather that they organise and campaign to encourage a standard to emerge. . . . The best firms have an interest in such a standard emerging as it would advantage them in competing to attract employees. And governments are also major employers, so they could establish standards for their own agencies to report against, which, if deftly done might form the kernel around which more widely used standards might emerge.

I’ve never tried to do any empirical work on the extent to which this could improve productivity – though I think it would be large. Now, in the process of completing a major project on estimating the value of open data to the Australian economy, a colleague referenced this paper.

“Match Quality, Worker Productivity, and Worker Mobility: Direct Evidence From Teachers”
by C. Kirabo Jackson. Here’s the abstract. Extremely promising I reckon! Continue reading

The other Berlin Wall that came down: The collapse of communism and the spread of ideas

Book Translations as Idea Flows: The Effects of the Collapse of Communism on the Diffusion of Knowledge
by Ran Abramitzky, Isabelle Sin


We use book translations as a new measure of international idea flows and study the effects of Communism’s collapse in Eastern Europe on these flows. Using novel data on 800,000 translations and difference-in-differences approaches, we show that while translations between Communist languages decreased by two thirds with the collapse, Western-to-Communist translations increased by a factor of four and quickly converged to Western levels. Convergence was more pronounced in the fields of applied and social sciences, and was more complete in Satellite and Baltic than in Soviet countries. We discuss how these patterns help us understand how repressive institutions and preferences towards Western European ideas shaped the international diffusion of knowledge.

The singularity: which jobs will go?


Pretty interesting paper (pdf).

The abstract:

We examine how susceptible jobs are to computerisation. To assess this, we begin by implementing a novel methodology to estimate the probability of computerisation for 702 detailed occupations, using a Gaussian process classifier. Based on these estimates, we examine expected impacts of future computerisation on US labour market outcomes, with the primary objective of analysing the number of jobs at risk and the relationship between an occupation’s probability of computerisation, wages and educational attainment. According to our estimates, about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk. We further provide evidence that wages and educational attainment exhibit a strong negative relationship with an occupation’s probability of computerisation.

The last paragraph of the conclusion.

Finally, we provide evidence that wages and educational attainment exhibit a strong negative relationship with the probability of computerisation. We note that this finding implies a discontinuity between the nineteenth, twentieth and the twenty-first century, in the impact of capital deepening on the relative demand for skilled labour. While nineteenth century manufacturing technologies largely substituted for skilled labour through the simplification of tasks (Braverman, 1974; Hounshell, 1985; James and Skinner, 1985; Goldin and Katz, 1998), the Computer Revolution of the twentieth century caused a hollowing-out of middle-income jobs (Goos, et al., 2009; Autor and Dorn, 2013). Our model predicts a truncation in the current trend towards labour market polarisation, with computerisation being principally confined to low-skill and low-wage occupations. Our findings thus imply that as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerisation – i.e., tasks requiring creative and social intelligence. For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.

Protectionism: of the white collar variety

Relaxing Occupational Licensing Requirements: Analyzing Wages and Prices for a Medical Service
by Morris M. Kleiner, Allison Marier, Kyoung Won Park, Coady Wing


Occupational licensing laws have been relaxed in a large number of U.S. states to give nurse practitioners the ability to perform more tasks without the supervision of medical doctors. We investigate how these regulations may affect wages, employment, costs, and quality of providing certain types of medical services. We find that when only physicians are allowed to prescribe controlled substances that this is associated with a reduction in nurse practitioner wages, and increases in physician wages suggesting some substitution among these occupations. Furthermore, our estimates show that prescription restrictions lead to a reduction in hours worked by nurse practitioners and are associated with increases in physician hours worked. Our analysis of insurance claims data shows that the more rigid regulations increase the price of a well-child medical exam by 3 to 16 %. However, our analysis finds no evidence that the changes in regulatory policy are reflected in outcomes such as infant mortality rates or malpractice premiums. Overall, our results suggest that these more restrictive state licensing practices are associated with changes in wages and employment patterns, and also increase the costs of routine medical care, but do not seem to influence health care quality.

Young, Restless and Creative: Openness to Disruption and Creative Innovations


This paper argues that openness to new, unconventional and disruptive ideas has a first-order impact on creative innovations-innovations that break new ground in terms of knowledge creation. After presenting a motivating model focusing on the choice between incremental and radical innovation, and on how managers of different ages and human capital are sorted across different types of firms, we provide cross-country, firm-level and patent-level evidence consistent with this pattern. Our measures of creative innovations proxy for innovation quality (average number of citations per patent) and creativity (fraction of superstar innovators, the likelihood of a very high number of citations, and generality of patents). Our main proxy for openness to disruption is manager age. This variable is based on the idea that only companies or societies open to such disruption will allow the young to rise up within the hierarchy. Using this proxy at the country, firm or patent level, we present robust evidence that openness to disruption is associated with more creative innovations.

by Daron Acemoglu, Ufuk Akcigit, Murat Alp Celik. Paper here.