The Consequences of Invention Secrecy: Evidence from the USPTO Patent Secrecy Program in World War II

67 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2019 Last revised: 29 May 2019

See all articles by Daniel P. Gross

Daniel P. Gross

Harvard Business School; National Bureau of Economic Research

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: May 12, 2019


This paper studies the effects of the USPTO's patent secrecy program in World War II, under which over 11,000 U.S. patent applications were issued secrecy orders which halted examination and prohibited inventors from disclosing their inventions or filing in foreign countries. Secrecy orders were issued most heavily in high-tech areas important to the war effort – such as radar, electronics, and synthetic materials – and nearly all rescinded at the end of the war. I find that compulsory invention secrecy reduced follow-on invention and restricted commercialization, but as part of the security policies in place during the war it appears to have been effective at keeping sensitive technology out of the public view. The results shed light on the consequences of invention secrecy, which is widely used by inventors to protect and appropriate the returns to innovation, and yield lessons for ongoing policy discussions over potential measures to protect U.S. inventors against the growing incidence of foreign IP theft today.

Keywords: Invention secrecy; Invention disclosure; Patents; Secrecy Orders; World War 2

JEL Classification: O31, O32, O34, O38, N42, N72

Suggested Citation

Gross, Daniel P., The Consequences of Invention Secrecy: Evidence from the USPTO Patent Secrecy Program in World War II (May 12, 2019). Harvard Business School Strategy Unit Working Paper No. 19-090. Available at SSRN: or

Daniel P. Gross (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Harvard Business School
Soldiers Field Road
Boston, MA 02163
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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