The Power of Patents and Prizes in American Inventing

The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation and the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School invite you to a panel discussion at the National Museum of American History.

The Power of Patents and Prizes in American Inventing

Friday, September 28, 2018
1:00 – 2:30pm

Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of American History
1300 Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC
Coulter Performance Plaza (1st Floor West)

This event is free and open to the public.


What is the best way to stimulate innovation—patents or prizes?

Patents secure to inventors a 20-year property right in a new invention or discovery. As a property right, inventors can use it as collateral to obtain venture capital financing, launch a startup, license their invention to another manufacturer, or sell the patent outright. Patents provide an economic incentive for inventors to create new technologies and to sell their products or services in the market, such as the medicines that treat cancer, our smartphones, and even basic goods like toasters, cars, and shaving razors. Since the first Patent Act of 1790, the US Patent and Trademark Office has granted over 10 million patents to famous inventors like Thomas Edison and hundreds of thousands of other innovators who have contributed to flourishing innovation economies in the US and throughout the world.

Prizes can also motivate inventors to tackle some of society’s most difficult challenges. They provide cash rewards and publicity for winners, and are designed to get working ideas into the public domain immediately. For example, New York hotelier Raymond Orteig offered $25,000 to the first aviator whose long-range plane could fly nonstop from New York to Paris, a prize famously claimed by Charles Lindbergh in 1927. Virgin Galactic, the first private spaceship for tourists launching in 2020, was first invented by Burt Rutan in the race to win the Ansari X Prize, which he won in 2004. Prizes also have inspired new solutions in malaria prevention and treatment. These incentive and recognition prizes—both popular in the 19th century—have enjoyed a revival over the last fifteen years.

Panelists will draw upon historical evidence and contemporary experience to explore the advantages, disadvantages, and relative success of these two methods for promoting innovation.


1:00-2:30 PM Panel Discussion

  • Zorina Khan, Professor of Economics, Bowdoin College
  • Josh Malone, Independent Inventor and Entrepreneur, Bunch O Balloons
  • Tom Nicholas, William J. Abernathy Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School
  • Moderator: Arthur Daemmrich, Director, Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
  • Closing Remarks: Adam Mossoff, Professor of Law, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University