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Thread: The end of innovation?

  1. #21
    DoubleplusUngoodNonperson Array
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    Mar 2008


    There's 2 things to consider when looking at those numbers:

    1) The transition from the "garage geek" inventors like edison and tesla into a singinifcant majority of inventions being developed by huge corporations.

    2) Corporations often do not report that they even have a patent on something until it goes into production - they are called "trade secrets" for a reason.

    I do not think we are entering a "dark age" of technology, but rather, it's continuing to grow into areas where only corporations have the opportunities and they often keep their advances in-house only. Boeing and Raytheon come to mind here. As was mentioned earlier the fruit has pretty much been picked clean, and the opportunity for your typical geeky self-employed inventor becomes smaller every year. Tech is becoming so advanced that only large teams of technicians and scientists have a snowballs chance in hell of discovering the next lightbulb or pop-top soda can.

    EDIT: come to think of it, I don't even think the big defense contractors need to patent their developements because most of them are highly classified. If you develop the next stealth bomber with a price tag of like 500 million per aircraft and it's going into production, the government provides the protection for your high-tech toys and gadgets. Patents are moot in such cases.
    Last edited by nozflubber; 06-08-2008 at 10:17 PM. Reason: Aunt Jemmama's dirty rag

  2. #22
    Senior Member Array millerm277's Avatar
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    Feb 2008


    I don't like either of those graphs. "Technical Breakthroughs" are pretty much impossible to define in any meaningful way. As for patents, that graph seems to show a big uptick, but also...many important devices don't get patented as well, or are unpatentible ideas, that spark a wide range of things.

    I see lots of innovation in the world, as an example "green" sector is accomplishing amazing things currently, that you wouldn't have thought even remotely possible a few years ago. Innovation isn't just inventing the light bulb, improving on it is just as important.
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  3. #23
    Senior Member Array FallsPioneer's Avatar
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    Dec 2007


    Nowadays and as time progresses there is going to be less room for innovation - not necessarily because more of those innovations will already have been discovered, but because so many things like corporations and big businesses are already established that it will be damn near impossible to get yourself out there. Plenty of people are going to opt for the road of just starting a more standard lifestyle with 2.2 kids and what not. Sure, there are the standard things like resources are going to be less available, but innovators aren't going to have as good chances to contribute.

    It's not the end of innovation for sure. Assuming humanity doesn't mess up too much we're going to see space travel and a whole bunch of that awesome futuristic stuff. And besides, there's all sorts of innovation going on nowadays, like millerm227 is saying.
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  4. #24
    Senior Member Array wildcat's Avatar
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    Jun 2007


    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    It's been almost 3 years since I first saw this, but I was thinking about it again.

    Note that the above graphs are per capita. What do you believe to be the case of this data?

    I have my own theories. But I'll hold off on expressing them for a while.

    Entering a dark age of innovation - opinion - 02 July 2005 - New Scientist
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    A crowd does not give room.

  5. #25
    filling some space Array UnitOfPopulation's Avatar
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    Sep 2007


    What others said. Software patents don't work to the intended effect. International Intellectual Property laws are a more fitting tool for many of the immaterial inventions of today. Much of the creative work is protected by copyright law, without the need to assert one's copyright or to apply anywhere. The bulk of new innovations are done in these areas.

    Moreover, many current inventions utilize the network effect to benefit from a greater number of contributors to the field. The innovations will not always be patented, but the specifications or the ideas released as open source.

    When a company has made an important innovation, it often relies on being first on market, and other companies jumping in the bandwagon, bringing free advertisement to the whole sector. The first company often categorizes themselves as the most innovative, one with premium-quality products, one in the leading edge. That is often good enough an incentive to not to patent one's inventions with those slow patent processes. If one keeps on the move, one can maintain a technological advantage. Patent process slows one down.

  6. #26


    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    The title was a bit of a dramatization. I don't think we are going to end innovation per say.

    But why are the per capita numbers going down? While the population has been increasing, why has the innovation rate also not gone up?

    Theories offered include (but not limited to):
    1) Innovation itself has become harder.
    2) We are about ready to experience another boom.
    3) Some nondescript unpopular theory that matches well with the dates.
    4) There isn't as much need/desire for it.
    While I think everyone so far has had good points I'd like to add something under #3. The second graph in the OP looks at US patents per capita and the peak seems to be between the US Civil War and WWII time periods. Before the Civil War the US was still catching up to Europe in terms of education and economic levels. It was also in the process of discovering much of the land and natural resources that are owned by the modern US. So in terms of educational/economic levels and natural resources the US was ripe for new innovations to spring up. Additionally post Civil War was when corporations were given a lot more freedom, so capital intensive technologies could now be created much more easily. On top of that all of the corporations were just getting their start so the business playing field was level. In general during this time period there was a lot of incentive to take risks because all of the oportunites to take risks were there with few of the obstacles.
    By the end of WWII the US had really reached a sort of peak in terms of science, wealth and technology. It had started calling itself a superpower. It was so far advanced that it was in the self interest of businesses, inventors, and entrepeneurs to become more conservative. A lot of the natural resourses were already acquired/purchased and there were large corporations in place that can be difficult to compete with.
    Overall I think you will see a spurt of innovation following a surge of education and wealth. In Europe they saw a relatively rapid growth during the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution time periods. In the US it was post Civil War to post WWII. And if my hypothesis is correct I would expect to be a surge in innovation from China and India after a couple of decades. Right now I think are still catching up to the other industrialized nations, but in a couple of decades I expect them to pass the rest of us.
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  7. #27


    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    To me things like the germ theory of disease, the automobile, electrification, and the radio, out-weigh any of the more modern inventions, in terms of what it means to people.

    Since then we had many inventions/innovations, but the big ones that stand out in my mind are: nuclear power, the transistor, and the internet.
    Yeah my favorite innovations are those which stimulate more innovation. Just think about the number of inventions that took place simply because of the invention of the electric generator. Some innovations like this don't really have much to do with patents though. For example the interstate system in the US has stimulated innovation simply by making trasportation cheaper and easier (and before that the railroad system). Personally I'd like to see free citywide availability of Wi-Fi sponsering by a variety of cities. I think being able to access the internet anywhere by anyone without cost would stimulate business and innovation much like the modern highway system.
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  8. #28
    The Eighth Colour Array Octarine's Avatar
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    Oct 2007
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    Does anyone have any fresh input? I am still interested in the relationship between intellectual property laws and scientific, as well as technological innovations.

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