The Inequalities of Innovation
52 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2018 Last revised: 30 Sep 2021
Date Written: March 2, 2021
Over the last few decades, the United States has become more innovative, but also more unequal. As it does, the question of how two traditionally divergent topics – innovation and inequality – intersect has become increasingly relevant. To connect them, this paper considers three distinct inequalities with relevance to innovation: economic inequality, inequality of opportunity to innovate, and inequality of access to innovation – and overlooked tensions between and among egalitarian ideals about innovation. Turning to the role of the law, it examines how patents may both exacerbate the inequalities of innovation, by enhancing returns to “invention capital,” but also, alleviate them, by providing pathways to prosperity and supporting commercialization. Though the patent system cannot holistically address each of the inequalities of innovation, it has a distinct role to play in advancing a “many-winner” rather than “winner-take-all” innovation system. By centering and reporting on “invention equity metrics” like first time patenting, leveling the invention playing field, accelerating innovation to address underserved needs, and improving its intersections with public law, the patent system can promote equitable growth through invention.
Keywords: patents, innovation, inequality
JEL Classification: O34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation