|A not so alone inventor.|
The lone inventor has long been the poster child of the patent system. Toiling away in the cinders, inventing for the love of it and rewarded with IP, it's a fairytale come true.
Popular lone inventors include Tesla, Edison and Da Vinci. As the lore goes, these intrepid geniuses discovered and developed all sorts of wonderful technology, including, but not limited to, sliced bread. Often reclusive, the lone inventor neglected personal hygiene and other worldly pursuits in their dedication to the cause of innovation. Picture lots of unkempt beards.
This is entirely at odds with models of cumulative innovation. The lone inventor is a myth. Tesla borrowed, Edison had insomnia squads, Da Vinci had an entire cultural movement. Instead, innovation is messy and cumulative, with each innovation spurring subsequent innovations. Two heads are better than one.
There is a certain martyrdom associated with being brilliantly innovative but not enriched by the fruits of one's genius. "The pay-check of genius unhappily is seldom commensurate with service to humanity." (I, for one, am still waiting for the returns to my amazing nail polish brush holder. Trust me, it's genius.)
The lone inventor has been replaced with the genius company (e.g. Apple) or the equally genius leader (e.g. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates.) The lone innovators we now applaud are better described as entrepreneurs. James Dyson, known for his swashbuckling attitude towards existing vacuum firms, became rich on his cleanliness conquest. Mark Zuckerberg, with his unusual take on privacy, is a very wealthy star of social media. Financial success is now part of the inventor story. The inventor for the love of it is no longer.
A recent conversation with a IP and Cricket fan (not mutually exclusive) suggested that an analogy for the shift away from the lone, intrinsically motivated inventor was the shift from amatuer to professional in sport. In cricket, there was an official class divide, until 1962, between amateurs (gentleman) and professionals (players.) Amateur represented a higher, purer form. Likewise, the Olympics were originally intended for 'gentlemen amateurs'.
From this dissertation on cricket, "The ideology of "amateurism‟ is extremely nebulous and hard to define. Whilst we know the word "amateur‟s‟ Latin and French etymological roots, its denotation of "one who does something for the love of it.‟ Do we now poo-poo the idea of the amatuer inventor in favour of the professional?
Yet there is one thing that has stayed constant in our lauding of the inventor or commercial success. The heroes are white, male and from developed economies. (No one on this list of female inventors has such fame. This 80s political hip hop highlights a number of unsung African American inventors.) Heterogeneity should increase innovation. Could I get some diversity up in here?