The Hidden Costs of Securing Innovation: The Manifold Impacts of Compulsory Invention Secrecy
80 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2019 Last revised: 3 Oct 2022
Date Written: April 12, 2022
One of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) most commanding powers is to compel inventions into secrecy, withholding patent rights and prohibiting disclosure, to prevent technology from leaking to foreign competitors. This paper studies the impacts of compulsory secrecy on firm invention and the wider innovation system. In World War II, USPTO issued secrecy orders to 11,000 patent applications, which it rescinded en masse at the end of the war. Compulsory secrecy caused implicated firms to shift their patenting away from treated classes, with effects persisting through at least 1960. It also restricted commercialization and impeded follow-on innovation. Yet it appears it was effective at keeping sensitive technology out of public view. The results provide insight into the effectiveness of compulsory secrecy as a regulatory strategy and into the roles, and impacts, of formal intellectual property in the innovation system.
Keywords: Compulsory secrecy; Invention secrecy; National security; World War II
JEL Classification: O31, O32, O34, O38, N42, N72
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