Quiet: Introverts and Patent Rights

by Dennis Crouch

Susan Cain's book Quiet walks through an historic societal transformation toward an "Extrovert Ideal" that "dramatically undervalues introverts" and incorrectly equates introversion with shy and antisocial behavior. This transformation parallels the shift from a culture that values character to one that values personality. See, Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (2013).

The movement toward extroversion is present within the patent system as well with a push toward "teamwork" in inventing. Team-developed inventions appear to be more likely to receive corporate backing and to be patented. What is unclear, however is whether the shift moves us toward better innovation. Arguably, the rise in collaborative inventing is driven by the complex nature of modern inventions and facilitated by our improved communications tools. However, I suspect that Cain's social thesis in Quiet provides a more compelling explanation: that social pressure and top business school training shift our attention toward the committee work (and hiring workers who do well in committee).

The great Steve Wozniak provides some opposite advice:

The inventors and engineers I've met are like me—they're shy and they live in their heads. They're almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention's design without a lot of other periople designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don't believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. If you're that rare engineer who'se an inventor and also an artist, I'm going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone. You're going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if your're working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team.

Of course, Wozniak did his most revolutionary work in the 1970's when two-thirds of patents listed a single person as "the inventor," today that figure has dropped to less than one-third. Over the past four decades, the number of inventors per patent has steadily crept upward as the lone inventors have gradually been crowded out.

The chart below shows the number of inventors per patent over the past eight years. What you can see is a continued increase in the percentage of patents with teams of inventors. In particular, the percentage of patents with only one inventor continues to fall while the percentage of patents with three or more inventors continues to rise.

InventorsPerPatent

Although inventing can still be a solo endeavor, patenting data indicates that paradigm no longer predominates.

See Dennis Crouch, The Changing Nature of Inventing: Collaborative Inventing at http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2009/07/the-changing-nature-inventing-collaborative-inventing.html; Dennis Crouch, Inventor Count at http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2013/01/inventors.html.

39 thoughts on “Quiet: Introverts and Patent Rights

  1. Anyone involved in management of a law firm that handles patent work should read Quiet. Law firms tend to value and promote extroverts, but many excellent patent attorneys are introverted, or prone to introversion. In my experience, they are invaluable to the law firm bottom line, but often under-recognized or under-utilized. Successful management will involve recognizing their talents, matching them to compatible client personalities, and finding ways for extrovert supervisors to value and champion their work.

  2. At my company, we’re offered a bonus for filing patents. This bonus is a fixed amount for each inventor up to 4 people.Guess what happens? Every patent filing has 4 inventors on it. I’ll stand up and ask around ‘who wants $XXX for writing their name as a co-inventor?’

  3. Of course, there’s always that department head who wants to be listed on papers he didn’t write. I suspect people of that ilk have been named as inventors far too often.

  4. I agree in general with Patent_Guru’s points on the importance that patent engineers (and patent lawyers I assume) place on getting all of the inventors of a particular patent listed on it (especially to assure that the assignment to the company works as it should and as early as possible). I also agree with others suggesting that it would be useful to see the same chart using the absolute numbers alongside this one (and Dennis’s old post charting it back to the 70s). I would add to the discussion two suggestions as to why (rather than culture) there might be this sort of increase in multiple inventor patents. First, this might be attributed to the relative rise within the patent archive of industries like the semiconductor or pharmaceutical industries where it is much more common to have company or large academic lab-based inventions. Second, this might also be a matter of the growth or maturity of these industries. Early lifecycle inventions may be easier for single inventors to claim in part because of the ease of making large percentage gains in a new technical field and in part simply because there are fewer people working on those problems. In industries like the LED industry now, patents cover innovations that may only give 3-5 percent increases in overall efficacy. In order to save money (or to increase the size of the “step” forward) companies may merge related ideas together into a single patent application. This will almost always yield multiple authors. As lawsuits pick up as the industry matures (see the LED industry as an excellent example), the number of patent filings also increase meaning that the overall number of patents in a more mature industry (which may also be more likely to have multiple inventors) will out number those of early industries. This moves the needle upwards in favor of multiple rather than single inventors. I wrote a longer version of this response over on TinAnthropology that deals a bit more with the “culture” arguments.

  5. An excerpt from a brief article a colleague and I wrote a few years ago on inventorship:”Dilbert As Inventor As if determining inventorship isn’t already complex enough, sometimes workplace politics gets in on the act when employees prepare invention disclosures for consideration for patent applications. There have been cases where subordinates name bosses as co-inventors. Bosses name subordinates. Friends name friends. And then there’s the Dilbertian corporate practice of “brainstorming” to invent. Here’s a scenario: The CEO of Goldbrick Inc. says “We need more IP.” So the Goldbrick CTO tells R&D “We want to triple our patent application filings, so we need a 10x increase in inventiondisclosure submissions.” Next, a cross-functional team of a dozen people in R&D convenes for several lunchtime sessions to brainstorm ways to turn lead into gold. Like any cross-functional team, there is a variety of technical expertise… and competence. A brilliant theoretical chemist comes up with some quantum hypothesis to convert the lead to gold. A lab chemist suggestsexperiments to test the hypothesis. A couple of engineers propose a way to scale up the lab tests to a pilot process. Six of the other team members propose more ideas… that make no sense at all. Another member, Mary, acts as scribe and writes everything down on flip charts. The last of the twelve, Jon, nods at all of his colleagues’ ideas in between bites of his meatball sub. The chemist and the two engineers, who actually make a living getting things done, go run the experiments and develop the pilot process. Lo and behold! After six months, they have demonstrated their process for conversion of lead into gold. They have learned enough from their work to finish writing an inventiondisclosure that shows the required “possession of the invention.” So they submit their invention disclosure to the legal department… and, at the boss’s “suggestion” that they be good team players, they name all twelve members as inventors.” Prior to becoming a patent agent, I worked for 22 years at a Fortune 500 employer. Details in the above scenario have been changed to protect the guilty… but otherwise, it’s real. That went on all the time. One patent I’m on ended up issued with seven claims and ten inventors. I didn’t even know who four of them were. If I were a litigator, anytime I saw a large entity patent with ten or so inventors, I’d be all over that.

  6. I agree in general with Patent_Guru’s points on the importance that patent engineers (and patent lawyers I assume) place on getting all of the inventors of a particular patent listed on it (especially to assure that the assignment to the company works as it should and as early as possible). I also agree with others suggesting that it would be useful to see the same chart using the absolute numbers alongside this one (and Dennis’s old post charting it back to the 70s). I would add to this discussion two suggestions as to why (rather than culture) there might be this sort of increase in multiple inventor patents. First, this might be attributed to the relative rise within the patent archive of industries like the semiconductor or pharmaceutical industries where it is much more common to have company or large academic lab-based inventions. Second, this might also be a matter of the growth or maturity of these industries. Early lifecycle inventions may be easier for single inventors to claim in part because of the ease of making large percentage gains in a new technical field and in part simply because there are fewer people working on those problems. In industries like the LED industry now, patents cover innovations that may only give 3-5 percent increases in overall efficacy. In order to save money (or to increase the size of the “step” forward) companies may merge related ideas together into a single patent application. This will almost always yield multiple inventors. As lawsuits pick up as the industry matures (see the LED industry as an excellent example), the number of patent filings also increase meaning that the overall number of patents in a more mature industry (which may also be more likely to have multiple inventors) will out number those of early industries. This moves the needle upwards in favor of multiple rather than single inventors. I wrote a longer version of this response with a bit more on the culture issue over on my own tin.anthropology blog at blogspot.

  7. I agree in general with Patent_Guru’s points on the importance that patent engineers (and patent lawyers I assume) place on getting all of the inventors of a particular patent listed on it (especially to assure that the assignment to the company works as it should and as early as possible). I also agree with others suggesting that it would be useful to see the same chart using the absolute numbers alongside this one (and Dennis’s old post charting it back to the 70s). I would add to the discussion two suggestions as to why (rather than culture) there might be this sort of increase in multiple inventor patents. First, this might be attributed to the relative rise within the patent archive of industries like the semiconductor or pharmaceutical industries where it is much more common to have company or large academic lab-based inventions. Second, this might also be a matter of the growth or maturity of these industries. Early lifecycle inventions may be easier for single inventors to claim in part because of the ease of making large percentage gains in a new technical field and in part simply because there are fewer people working on those problems. In industries like the LED industry now, patents cover innovations that may only give 3-5 percent increases in overall efficacy. In order to save money (or to increase the size of the “step” forward) companies may merge related ideas together into a single patent application. This will almost always yield multiple authors. As lawsuits pick up as the industry matures (see the LED industry as an excellent example), the number of patent filings also increase meaning that the overall number of patents in a more mature industry (which may also be more likely to have multiple inventors) will out number those of early industries. This moves the needle upwards in favor of multiple rather than single inventors. I wrote a longer version of this response over on my blog over at tinanthropology.blogspot.com.

  8. This trend may simply reflect the need to have resources (time, money and sanity) for protecting patents. The ethic of respecting IP no longer exists, if it ever did. It has been replaced by “ask forgiveness, not permission.” Indeed, most of the arguments against patent trolls assume mutually assured infringement. So an inventor must have good prospects of being able to protect the patent before even applying. This environment favors strong institutions where teams are more prevalent.For at least this individual inventor, avoiding the patent system is more intellectually rewarding – or at least less punishing.

  9. OT: A new decision out of the Federal Circuit is very interesting – Nazomi Communications, Inc. v. Nokia. link to cafc.uscourts.gov… Here’s an interesting quote on the “new computer” issue:”However, Nazomi points out that we have held that ‘an apparatus claim directed to a computer that is claimed in functional terms is nonetheless infringed so long as the product is designed in such a way as to enable the user of that [product] to utilize the function without having to modify the product.’ Silicon Graphics, 607 F.3d at 794 (internal quotations omitted) (emphasis added). Nazomi argues that installation of the JTEK software is not a modification that precludes a finding of infringement. We disagree. The purchase and installation of the JTEK software clearly constitutes a ‘modification’ of the accused products.”Majority opinion by Dyk, with Wallach signing on. Lourie writes a very brief concurring opinion that I don’t fully understand.

    1. “Because the ARM core design and the chips based on that core are intended to be used in a wide variety of products, they often contain optional functionality not utilized nor enabled by every manufacturer.”A great way of putting it. And of course, all you have to do is opt to instruct it to enable that functionality and you’re good to go. The machine itself always had that functionality. “However, the Jazelle hardware on the accused devices cannot perform the functionality described in Nazomi’s asserted claims without software known as Jazelle Technology Enabling Kit (“JTEK”).”I think he means that they will not perform that functionality without being instructed to do so by appropriate instructions, one example of which is JTEK. “In July 2012 Western and Sling filed a motion for summary judgment contending that the claims should be construed to require that the device perform the claimed functions itself,”Hah! Apparently they’re unfamiliar with the the ridiculousness routinely adopted at the Fed Circ! And they’re also apparently unaware that if the claims were so construed, they would likely be invalid under 101/112 since they are apparatus claims. Mixing in method steps into your apparatus claims is bad news! “and that the accused products did not infringe the asserted claims because they included the Jazelle hardware but not the necessary JTEK software”Hah hah! Like all “faux logic” employed at the Fed. Circ. eventually it comes back to bite you in the ar se!”In opposing summary judgment, Nazomi argued that asserted claims 48 and 74 of the ’362 patent and claims 1 and 5 of the ’436 patent cover any generic hardware that “could process stack-based instructions regardless of whether the device ever actually does so.””Of course! So the “thought” goes at any rate! “, and construed the asserted claims to require a hardware and software combination capable of processing both register-based and stack-based instructions.”Haha!”The court concluded that without the enabling JTEK software, Jazelle hardware cannot process stack-based instructions at all.”HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Unless of course you decided to instruct it yourself with some instructions that aren’t Jazelle! I love watching courts defend their house of cards! It’s hilarious! “For example, the italicized portions of claim 48 below recite specific claim functionalities that cannot be practiced in hardware alone and require enabling software:”Not really, you could just instruct it yourself if you wanted to. Especially in an embodiment that was specifically set up to recognize voice commands or whatever other instructions you wished to provide. “Since hardware cannot meet these limitations in the absence of enabling software,”A nice factual finding the DC and CAFC is making with zero evidence. And which they’re about to fold into their claim construction, which is supposedly a pure matter of lawl. “Further, the need for the specified functionality is confirmed by the ’362 patent specification”Reading limitations into a claim from the specification is now “confirmation” of a claim construction? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! “For example, in Intel Corporation v. U.S. International Trade Commission, the claims only required “programmable selection means,” and the accused product infringed because it could be programmed to perform the infringing use. 946 F.2d 821, 832 (Fed.Cir. 1991). We held that the “programmable” claim language required only that the accused product could be programmed to perform the claimed functionality.””HAHAAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAH! Guess they messed up their drafting eh? Yeah right! Defend that house of cards! “In contrast, Nazomi has not claimed an apparatus with hardware “pro grammable” to process stack-based instructions, it has claimed a combination of hardware and software capable of performing that function.”Though they obviously didn’t mean to be claiming that. Surely they want both! “Here, in contrast, the claims do not cover hardware that contemplates an environment where it could be combined with software,”Although they obviously wanted that from the get go. Just look at how the claims are drafted! “However, Nazomi points out that we have held that “an apparatus claim directed to a computer that is claimed in functional terms is nonetheless infringed so long as the product is designed in such a way as to enable the user of that [product] to utilize the function without having to modify the product.” Obviously!”The purchase and installation of the JTEK software clearly constitutes a “modification” of the accused products.”Just as instructing it in everyday English would were the embodiment capable of understanding English instructions straight up! /boggle. ” There, Typhoon made the same argument that Nazomi does here, that the accused devices infringe if they “ha[ve] the capability of being configured or programmed to perform the stated function,” even though the accused devices were not structured to perform that stated function as sold. “Because that is obviously what they were intending to claim! Someone really needs to come out and claim that straight up in easy to read English make an easy to read claim that is construable in such a way to explain the situation to the court. “Here, the structure (i.e., JTEK software) necessary to enable Jazelle hardware to process stack-based instructions (i.e., Java bytecodes) is not only inactive, it is not even present on the accused products. “HAHAHAHAAHAHAAHAHAAHA! “The installation of JTEK software is not unlocking exist-ing functionality, but adding new functionality not currently present.”DOUBLE, NAY TRIPLE HAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!Keep it up CAFC, one of these days this is going on up! The slow wheels of government will churn slowly to life!

      1. That’s quite a belief system you have there 6, as it ‘overcomes’ (that is, exists in complete absence of reality) all logic – both factual and legal.Add: the thunderous silence from Ned and Malcolm is just soooo soothing.Quiet (from the thread title) is an apt word for the case introduced by Leopold.I wonder why (well, not really).

    2. Why does their analysis focus on whether the “device was infringing”? This seems like a dangerous shortcut (since 271 does not suggest that a device in isolation from a maker/user/seller/etc. can infringe) that avoids what I would think should be a critical part of the analysis in an “infringing by using” case: were the defendants using the entirety of the claimed invention? That seems like a much simpler analysis than what the CAFC went through here.Admittedly, I don’t see much of the infringement side of things from my perspective aside from what gets discussed here, so if someone could clear this up for me, I’d appreciate it.

      1. This was an infringement by selling case. There was no dispute that the product was being sold, so the question is whether the product meets the terms of the claims.Your comment raises the question of whether the end user infringes if he/she never actually triggers the execution of the infringing code – I think not, but I don’t recall any cases on this.

    3. It appears that somebody’s been reading about the Grand Hall experiment.[add: so add to the Grand Hall experiment; the fact that software is equivalent to firmware and is equivalent to hardware, being a manufacture and machine component; and the exceptions to the printed matter doctrine; and the proper understanding of Alappat; a case on point that neither Malcolm nor Ned will discuss with any semblance of intellectual honesty…]

      1. Worth repeating this post from another thread:Malcolm: “All you are doing is sticking your head in the sand and pretending that basic facts don’t exist”Me: LOL – beyond ironyMalcolm: “What kind of a person does that? A dishonest one. A person who can’t handle the truth. A coward.”Me: In other words, Malcolm.First principles first, Malcolm – before you even get to any patent whatsoever – answer the very very very simple questions that you keep running from. Let’s not see any of the cowardly dissembling and distraction.

    4. the claims do not cover hardware that contemplates an environment where it could be combined with software”Hardware contemplates an environment ….?” Man, that’s awful.The house of cards built by the CAFC sure is getting drafty. Time to install some card installation, I suppose. Or maybe rebuild the foundation using fresh quicksand.

      1. “The house of cards built by the CAFC sure is getting drafty. Time to install some card installation, I suppose. Or maybe rebuild the foundation using fresh quicksand.”What does any of that mean? At ‘best’ that seems like dissembling innuendo (again).(down votes when I am dead nuts accurate – gotta love that – let the coward come forward, let him join the conversation with something of merit)

      2. Still all quiet on the merits of this decision…(“shockers”)Add: Still all quiet on this software front (whew, good thing we have a Troll story to kick up a lot of dust and cover up the basic facts and law that this case present)

  10. maybe the increase in number of inventors listed per patent is simply due to the financial incentives provided by corporations to help manufacture patent filings and doesn’t reflect true inventorship

  11. A couple of points to consider.If in doubt, it is better to include a potential inventor than not — particularly where employment agreements require that the inventor assign their inventions to the employer.Inventorship is tied to the claims. As such, although there may be only one “main inventor” of the new concept, if other people contribute to the dependent claims, then they should be added as well. As such, it is fairly easy to be included as an inventor — even if you only contributed some minor portion. I suspect that in companies that reward their employees based upon patents, there is an inherent incentive to increase the amount of listed inventors.I believe Wozniak’s advice regarding inventing (i.e., “[w]ork alone”) is good advice. Like all advice, it probably doesn’t apply in all situations. However, working alone allows one to avoid the bane of all progress — somebody who says “it cannot be done.” By working alone, you can avoid all the prejudices of those that came before.On the flipside, there is value to collaboration. Sometimes, you’ll have somebody who says “if we could only do X, I can get to Y but I don’t know how to do X” and another person who says “I can do X but I don’t know what to do with X.” When those people meet, then you have real collaboration. However, getting back to my first observation, the fact that multiple inventors exist does not necessarily mean that they all contributed equally to the invention (or were really necessary to achieve the invention).

    1. “working alone allows one to avoid the bane of all progress — somebody who says “it cannot be done.””Agreed times a million. Will –> Way.

    2. Agree that when in doubt, name a person as inventor. But this creates its own hazard. I’ve always wondered whether a good defense lawyer might not notice a batch of named inventors and wheedle out of at least one of them during depo that the person basically just sat in a room during a group discussion and must admit to having said nothing, meaning the patent would be invalid for naming a person who not a true inventor. I think the risk of NOT naming is greater but over-naming is not risk-free.

      1. “… but over-naming is not risk-free.”That risk is greatly reduced with the changes to 35 USC 256. The way I read it, the judge can fix it on the fly.

    3. Agree. The ‘water cooler’ basically destroyed the sole inventor as did the court cases that agreed that just speaking about your invention would eliminate your sole ownership. Also the employer who signs the sole inventor’s paycheck always feels the need to own that inventor’s thoughts too. Experienced it first hand, having to have the dimmest witted employer show up on a patent that he couldn’t even pronounce let alone conceive. One more point- as has been stated, having others on a patent was the very first ‘kickstarter’ campaign I know of!!

      1. Experienced it first hand, having to have the dimmest witted employer show up on a patent that he couldn’t even pronounce let alone conceive.Some of that was inherited from the culture of scientific research publishing, which has nothing to do with patent law.

  12. Interesting that one of the great zeitgeists rears its head in the number of inventors. Maybe we can find evidence of time travelers in patent applications. :)

  13. Think interferences.One needs corroborating witnesses. If one puts the whole team on a patent, there go your witnesses. But if interferences are not important, there really is no vice adding team members.As well there may be a problem with inventor award systems in companies. Leave off a team member, he does not get an award and he gets pissed.

    1. I agree that using raw numbers reduces the visual impact, but I don’t see why that would be a better starting framework.

      1. Absolute numbers would probably show an increase in single-inventor patents, which would somewhat undermine the article’s implication that sole inventors are being discouraged or have stopped innovating as much.Besides, it’s heartening to know that this antisocial group still has pen pals at the PTO.

      2. I simply noted what I did because the number of individual inventorships may be increasing as the years go by just like the joint inventorships are. But, it may be that it is simply that the individual inventorships are growing less quickly than the joint inventorships thus leading to the percent decrease even while there may still be an overall increase in the absolute numbers (I don’t know because I don’t have that graph available to me). And if that is the case, then it somewhat dilutes the message you’re seeming to want to send, that individual inventorship appears to be on the decline (if not only related to joint inventorships).

      3. When I find myself agreeing with 6 and IANAE, I always have to give serious pause and reflection.Here, after such reflection, I find that I must chastise the good professor for his obvious seeking of some chum-generating “visual impact” and then the rather lame “not seeing a better starting framework.”I have to wonder what was the desired ‘framework.’ “Framework’ for what, exactly? (emphasis added)Manipulating data to paint a conclusion that is not actually supported by the raw numbers is simply wrong. Without exception.Here especially the treatment smacks of 570nm wavelength given the fact that the number of grants was recently chummed (without data that would provide a complete picture).In other words, patent grants to single inventors actually ‘exploded’ by 158% (roughly) over the last four years.If the aim was to compare and contrast the growth rate of grants to particular groups, the data for each group should have been presented in a normed manner showing each with a positive slope over time. In comparison to the single inventors, the three plus group simply ‘exploded more’ over the last four years (roughly 186%). A faulty implication of a zero-sum game is made by the choice of presentation (add: here the fact that you have an “expanding pie” is NOT something that should be omitted – far from obscuring anything, this is necessary context – again, this is a factor in the Lemley/Katznelson exchange on this topic). The manipulation here reminds me of a certain Lemley/Katznelson debate.

        1. “I find that I must chastise the good professor for his obvious seeking of some chum-generating ‘visual impact’ …”Oh, please. As you ultimately concluded, even though the absolute number of single-inventor patents is growing, the number of multi-inventor patents, particularly of those with three or more inventors, is growing much more quickly. That’s an interesting trend. If you want to illustrate that trend, it would be foolish to do as you suggest, as the trend would be obscured by the overall growth rates. Thus, the best approach is to normalize each curve with respect to the total number of patents. Of course, if you do that, you get exactly what Dennis plotted.

          1. We will have to disagree, as you simply ignored the rest of what I posted – the introduction of a misleading conclusion ‘for effect’ is simply wrong. What you call “obscuring” is better called “understanding in context.” When you remove the context to the extent that you obtain (or imply – as here that the number of individual inventors is actually dropping) a conclusion not supported by the actual data you have simply gone too far. Foolish? Au contraire.And your ‘oh, please’ carries zero weight, but thanks anyway. There is (and should be) a clear distinction between ‘can spin’ and ‘should spin.’I will also add that those who do not remember history are bound to repeat it. The same back and forth here between Leopold and I was exchanged when I chastised Prof. Crouch for chumming with patent grant charts that did not show the full picture (and thus, the proper context). Leopold scoffed, but went silent when I presented evidence of those who took the data as then shown (without the contextual understanding) and ran rampant in an anti-patent fashion (places like Techdirt, slashdot, and the like).In the best Paul Harvey tones: “And that is the rest of the story.”

  14. There’s also the “academic authorship” type of inventor, where you have some high-level manager who may have once popped into a meeting and made some off-hand remark about the project at some point, and thereby ends up listed as an inventor when they didn’t really do anything.I’m looking in your direction, spinning corpse of Steve Jobs.(I compare it to academic authorship in that a graduate student’s research advisor is almost always listed as an author on a paper regardless of how much advice they actually dispensed.)

    1. APoTU, ditto corporations and bosses.Perhaps this does reflect that numbers of engineers work on problems, not just one. They collaborate, bounce ideas, etc.

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