Department of Management

Necessity is the Mother of Inventing Around: Inventing Around Edison's Lamp Patent: How circumventing Edison’s lamp patent stimulated downstream development and competition

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review

  • John Howells
  • Ron D Katznelson, Dr. Ron D. Katznelson is the president of Bi-Level Technologies, Encinitas, California, USA., United States
The practice of “invention around” or “design around,” is prevalent but not often appreciated as a means by which patents promote economic development through competition. We argue that outcomes resulting from efforts to design around deserve scrutiny and quantitative evaluation and so we provide the first detailed empirical study of the extent and timing of inventing around patent claims. We study the filing rate of incandescent lamp-related patents during 1878-1898 and find that the enforcement of Edison’s incandescent lamp patent in 1891-1894 stimulated a surge of patenting. To explore the nature of this surge, we studied the specific design features of the lamps described in these lamp patents and compared them to Edison’s claimed invention to create a count of non-infringing designs by filing date. Most of these patents described inventions-around that circumvented the Edison patent claims by creating substitute technologies to enable participation in the market. Our forward citation analysis of the patents describing non-infringing designs reveal that some of these patents introduced important new technology that became pioneering prior art for new fields. This indicates that invention around patents contributes to dynamic economic efficiency and that it is not duplicative research. Contrary to widespread understanding, the Edison lamp patent did not suppress technological advance in electric lighting and the market power of General Electric (“GE”), the Edison patent-owner, weakened through the period of this patent’s enforcement. We propose in cases where patents are alleged to have conferred undue market power, an investigation of the scope and effects of design-around is advisable, using methods such as those we adopted here.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year9 Aug 2020
Number of pages46
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2020
EventAcademy of Management - On-line Conference, United States
Duration: 7 Aug 202011 Aug 2020


ConferenceAcademy of Management
LocationOn-line Conference
CountryUnited States

    Research areas

  • incandescent lamp; invent around; licensing; infringement; monopoly.

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