Patenting Economics (and Other Things)

28 July 2009 at 6:27 am 10 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

The Google Empire appears to be expanding continually, and it is not easy to keep track of its recent conquests. Actually, I learned only yesterday that Google indexes patents and patent applications from the United States Patent and Trademark Office under

The engine — which comprises 7 million patents — is fun to explore. Surprisingly many patent (applications) relate to economics. Many seem downright cranky, such as the application for a Method for the Determination of Economic Potentials and Temperatures (or perhaps I am just ignorant). Lots of management tools are also patented. For example, here is a patent describing a tool for analyzing “strategic capability networks.”

Ian Stewart claims (here) that two prime numbers have been patented (here is the short one: 7,994,412,097,716,110,548,127,211,733,331,600,522,93757,046,707,3,776, 649,963,673,962,686,200,838,432,950,239,103,981,070,728,369,599,816,314,646, 482,720,706,826,018,360,181,196,843,154,224,748,382,211,019 (now, don’t reproduce this, unless you want to get into trouble ;-)), but I haven’t been able to locate them.

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Ephemera, Innovation.

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cliff Grammich  |  28 July 2009 at 7:05 am

    Another question, this one stemming from my complete ignorance of patent law: how can a number be patented? I might be able to understand how something indicating whether a number is prime could be patented, but the number itself?

  • 2. Nicolai Foss  |  28 July 2009 at 9:18 am

    Cliff, Stewart (p.135) says that in 1994 a Roger Schlafly “obtained US Patent 5,373,560 on two primes … He did this to publicise deficiencies in the US patent system” . That patent # is indeed associated with Schlafly, but seems to go much beyond “two primes”. Here is the abstract: “A method is given for the modular reduction of cryptographic variables, a component of many public key cryptosystems. It involves calculating a partial inverse to the modulus, partially multiplying cryptovariables, and using estimates which depend on properties of the modulus, If the estimates fail, a spill word is used. A method for choosing a modulus to get cryptographic security and maximal.”

  • 3. Cliff Grammich  |  28 July 2009 at 9:33 am

    Well, now, that abstract explains all, doesn’t it?

  • 4. JC Spender  |  28 July 2009 at 10:23 am

    Well this is all to do with the RSA public/private encryption system – an item from my past in computer security. It’s actually VERY important.

    I loved the Strategy thing from IBM. Utterly bizarre. Makes one realize the Porter could have patented 5-forces – but with what consequences? The RBV would be trickier since it is difficult to know if there is ‘anyone home’ in that framework.

    On further thought, I might patent ‘industry recipe’.

  • 5. Cliff Grammich  |  28 July 2009 at 11:05 am

    JC–it wouldn’t be the first very important thing over my head . . .

  • 6. Michael F. Martin  |  28 July 2009 at 12:15 pm

    It has been settled law for many decades that algorithms or equations are not eligible for patenting. But methods or systems that make use of algorithms or equations to do something useful may be. The Supreme Court is going to way in on this precise question this fall in the Bilski case.

    Isn’t it amazing to see how much is buried in the PTO disclosures. Makes you wonder whether people might actually read patents if they had their format updated, were more easily searchable, and were published earlier.

  • 7. Peter Klein  |  28 July 2009 at 12:49 pm

    The Totally Absurd archive has some good examples too. Stephan Kinsella has collected some funny ones in this presentation.

  • 8. JC Spender  |  29 July 2009 at 7:33 am

    What happened to the project to close the patent office – on the grounds that everything important had already been invented?

  • 9. Peter Klein  |  29 July 2009 at 8:13 am

    JC, an urban legend, apparently:

  • 10. jc spender  |  29 July 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Of course – but we’re in the dog days now. Thanks for digging up this old bone.

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).

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