Department of Management

Simultaneous invention and the patent law

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review

“Simultaneous invention” is the persistent idea in the social science literature that identical inventions are sometimes/often made multiply and independently and closely-bunched in time. When scholars believe that simultaneous invention has overwhelming prevalence for important technological inventions they often find this to challenge the idea that patent law (which rewards only the first inventor with exclusive rights) is needed to encourage invention and innovation. We review the empirical evidence alleged to show that simultaneous invention is prevalent for important inventions. In general, we find that naïve notions of simultaneous invention persist in the literature for lack of a cogent and meaningful definition of “invention” and “simultaneous.” We find that pervasive errors in the presentation of historical evidence underlie the erroneous argument that simultaneous invention is typical of important pioneer inventions in both survey evidence and alleged illustrative cases of simultaneous invention. We show this in the cases of Edison, the Wright brothers, the Selden automobile patent vis a vis Ford, Watt and the steam engine. We then point out that patent law inherently ensures that patent protection is not extended to near simultaneous inventions. There remain a number of simultaneous inventions discovered through interference proceedings but we find the number too small to mount a serious challenge to the general operation of patent law.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2017
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Event2016-2017 Thomas Edison Innovation Fellowship: Final Meeting - Austin, TX, United States
Duration: 26 Jan 201727 Jan 2017


Conference2016-2017 Thomas Edison Innovation Fellowship
CountryUnited States
CityAustin, TX
Internet address

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