Innovation: the Apple era vs Industrial Revolution

Innovation: the Apple era vs Industrial Revolution

In the yards of coverage about the Apple vs Samsung battle, I’ve read quite a few justifications as to why it was right of the US court to demand that Samsung pay its competitor $1bn for infringing its patents. One economic one that crops up is that were it not for intellectual protection and patents, the Industrial Revolution would never have happened.

The argument goes that if inventors did not have any protection for their ideas, they would be less likely to invest their time and money innovating. That in turn would stifle growth and undermine the broader economic ecosystem. It’s a compelling and intuitive idea, I’m afraid it simply isn’t borne out by the facts.

Despite the existence of patent laws in Britain in the early part of the Industrial Revolution, many of the great early innovators did not enjoy protections of the extent that were later put in place.

h/t to Dani Rodrik, whose coursenotes I nabbed this table from

For most of them, innovation was patently not a route to riches (excuse the pun). And yet the Industrial Revolution still happened. None of this is to say that patents are not a significant element in ensuring entrepreneurship. They are. But history shows that strong patent law is not the be-all and end-all for an economy’s success.