woensdag 6 augustus 2014

500 years of patents in the Netherlands

Some statistics

The first Dutch patent, based on a technical principle was granted on October 24, 1515, almost 5 centuries ago. During the past five hundred years neat and highly accurate statistics on the number of patents granted in the Netherlands can be reconstructed. The first three centuries of patents granted in the Netherlands are represented in the following image. The number of patents is depicted per decade, running up to the date indicated on the abscissa.

Here we can see a steep rise in the number of patents in the start of the 17th century, the golden age of the Netherlands. The golden age came to an end strikingly similar with the strong decline in patent numbers at the turn of the centuries. Patent numbers dropped from around 100 per decade in the mid 17th century to less than 10 per decade in the mid 18th century; a true decimation.

The data from 1800 to 1950 are certainly not less interesting, as can be seen in the following image:

Here, the number of patent per year had risen from about 0-1 during the French era (1795-1810) under the various French patent laws to about 160 a year shortly before the abolition of the Patent law in 1869. That moment, a pitch dark age of absence of any patent system started in the Netherlands, which lasted up to 1912. Those 41 Years, the Netherlands had to cope with no patent system whatsoever.

After the new Dutch patent law of 1910 had entered into force on 1912, the numbers of patents granted started to rise again, to about 3000 a year, before the 1929 crises hit. From the early 1930ies to the end of the 2nd world war, numbers fell again. After the war, things could only go up, as the following image show:

From 1980 the number of granted Dutch patents start to rise spectacularly. Shortly before 1980, the European Patent Office started to grant European Patents designated for the Netherlands. The steep rise went up to about 53000 patents granted with effect in the Netherlands in 2012. In 2013 a small decline in granted patents was seen, though it appears that in 2014, growth will pick up again.

To depict the whole 5 centuries in one image, I have made use of logarithmic plot, since the orders of magnitude differ so much during this complete time span. From this figure, it is striking that after the 17th century maximum, it lasted about two full centuries before these patent numbers were reached again. That time, in 1830, the industrial revolution was already on its way.

Why Bother?

Why is this all so important? Well first of all it is fascinating to know that already five centuries ago, people started to realize that ingenuity needed a reward of some kind. This  reward was given in form of a temporary monopoly.

Lately, there have been quite some discussion about the uses and benefits of a patent system. Especially the questions "do patents benefit society?" and "do patents hinder the development of technology?" are increasingly posed by patent-critics.

I hope to find answers to these questions in these old and long time spanning statistical data. Answers to these questions are notoriously difficult to give in modern times, since both patent numbers and wealth seem to have risen almost constantly, ever since the industrial revolution. See my earlier blogs on this topic [3, 4, 5]. Here some strong positive correlations between patent numbers and wealth are depicted, however causalities are way more difficult to prove.  

I am now trying to find long term accurate Dutch wealth statistics, such that a neat comparison can be made, and hopefully some more solid conclusions on the effects of patents on wealth and prosperity can be drawn...

Cant wait to have more on this fascinating topic!

Literature and sources:

[1] Federico, P. J., 1964: Historical Patent Statistics 1791 – 1961, in: Journal of the Patent Office Society (46), No. 2, S. 112-116.

[2] Doorman, G. 1940: Octrooien voor uitvindingen in de Nederlanden uit de 16de-18de eeuw. 's-Gravenhage 1940.

[3] http://octrooifabriek.blogspot.nl/2014/01/patents-do-contribute-to-prosperity.html

[4] http://octrooifabriek.blogspot.nl/2014/01/patents-do-contribute-to-prosperity-ii.html

[5] http://octrooifabriek.blogspot.nl/2013/11/should-we-abolish-our-patent-systems.html

woensdag 4 juni 2014

Patent number one

Patent number 1

For those who have some time left to play around, a neat game is looking for the very first patents issued. For this exercise, a look in the EPO databases [1], the USPTO databases [2] or the WIPO databases [3] may be sufficient.

Quite astonishing, the patents bearing number 1, i.e.: US1, DE1, FR1, US1, NL1 etc. do exist, and can be retrieved from the various databases. Even more astonishing, at least in the Netherlands, the NL1 is not the first Dutch patent at all.

The very first Dutch patent was issued in the year 1515 [4]. almost four hundred years earlier than the issue date of NL1. This patent was issued while there was no codified patent law, and the powers of the monopoly including a punishment for the infringer was stated in the document itself. From this year up to the French era, a number of 1081 Dutch patents have thus been granted.

In the year 1809 finally, the Dutch King Lodewijk Napoleon (the French ruler in the Netherlands) issued a first codified (mini)patent law, which was superseded in 1810 by the original French patent law from 1791. Finally in 1817 a new Dutch patent law was issued, which was abolished in 1869. when the true dark ages of our beloved patent system had started. Only in 1912 a new patent law was reinstated in the Netherlands, and only under this law, the NL1 was issued on April 3, 1913.

During the French rule, only 7 patents were granted. In the era thereafter, under the patent law of 1817 until its sad abolishment in 1869, a number of 4541 Dutch patents have been granted.

Adding up: Before our assumed first Dutch patent, Nl1 already 5629 Dutch patents have been issued.

It is about time to fill this gap, and get these great sources of historic literature and culture in the Espacenet databases! Examiners love to cite historic disclosures, well here is an excellent opportunity to extend the body of "state of the art".
And more importantly, it is pure fun looking in these documents full of ancient technologies....


[1] European Patent Office http://www.espacenet.org/

[2] United States Patent and Trademark Office http://www.uspto.gov

[3] World Intellectual Property Organisation http://www.wipo.int

[4] G. Doorman, "Octrooien voor uitvindingen in de Nederlanden uit de 16e-18e eeuw", den Haag (1940)

dinsdag 21 januari 2014

Patents do contribute to prosperity II

If we plot the number of patents granted in the USA against the GDP for the last 200 years, the following graph emerges:

Well there is a clear correlation between the number of patents granted and the GDP/capita.

Do patents contribute to prosperity? YES THEY DO!


[1] Gap Minder: http://www.gapminder.org/data/  Data on GDP/cap in PPP US$ 2005: Gross Domestic Product per capita by Purchasing Power Parities (in international dollars, fixed 2005 prices). The inflation and differences in the cost of living between countries has been taken into account.

[2] Statistical website of the USPTO:  http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ido/oeip/taf/us_stat.htm

[3] Federico, P. J., 1964: Historical Patent Statistics 1791 – 1961, in: Journal of the Patent Office Society (46), No. 2, S. 112-116.

woensdag 15 januari 2014

Patents do contribute to prosperity!

If we plot a wealth indicator and the number of granted patents, there should be shown some correlation. In the following graph, the number of Dutch granted patents was plotted against the GDP per capita (in international 2005 dollars) in the Netherlands [1].

Well not much to our surprise, there is indeed a nice correlation.... and the along the data points, neatly, the time evolves from 1800 in the utmost lefthand side lower corner to 2012, in the utmost righthand side upper corner.

Some strange things happen, e.g. in 1978, when the first European patents granted with effect for the Netherlands came to live. The number of patents increased massively, whereas the growth in GDP per capita didn't. Actually, in the late 70ties and early 80ties there was a quite severe economic downturn.

from 1800 till 1979 there was a very steep correlation between the number of patents granted and the growth of wealth in the Netherlands. One important factor in this is, much to my believe, the very strict granting policy of the former Dutch patent authority, de Octrooiraad.

In the 90ties, we see even a decade of reversed correlation, the number of patents granted for the netherlands decreased, whereas economy was booming. This effect is greatly due to the backlog building up at the premises of the European Patent Office, suffering from their enormous success.

 In the last decade, there appears to be again a decoupling of our economic fitness and the number of patents granted. Here again, it appears that though inventive power is extreme, economy is not (yet) picking up. To my opinion, the rise in patents granted will most certainly boost economy in the near future, such that the correlation is regained.

One remark though, a correlation is different from a causality. Correlation is relative easy to proof, causality is a lot more difficult. This being said, I do conclude, yet again, that patents do contribute to prosperity!

It is simply to difficult to ignore...


[1] Gap Minder: http://www.gapminder.org/data/  Data on GDP/cap in PPP US$ 2005: Gross Domestic Product per capita by Purchasing Power Parities (in international dollars, fixed 2005 prices). The inflation and differences in the cost of living between countries has been taken into account.