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