Measuring Secrecy: A Cost of the Patent System Revealed
Jeremy M. Grushcow
Patent laws worldwide require inventors to keep their inventions secret prior to patent filing so that proprietary claims do not issue on material that inventors appear to have placed in the public domain. The resulting secrecy is widely acknowledged to be one of the main costs of the patent system. This paper takes a novel approach to measuring scientists’ secrecy and shows that scientists seeking to patent their work do in fact withhold presentation of their data at scientific meetings. The data reveal a further effect—a more widespread change in the behavior of university scientists, who exhibit increased secrecy even when not seeking patents. The increased secrecy by those not seeking patents is a challenge to existing patent law, because it occurs without the compensatory benefits of patent-driven commercialization or patent-motivated invention. To minimize this unexpected cost, this paper suggests a combination of changes to the law, technology, and norms relating to academic scientists.
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