Fact of the Week: Secret Patents Filed in 1945 Were Cited 15 Percent More Than Secret Patents Filed in 1940

Caleb Foote July 29, 2019
July 29, 2019

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Source: Daniel P. Gross, “The Consequences of Invention Secrecy: Evidence from the USPTO Patent Secrecy Program in World War II,” NBER Working Paper No. 25545, May 2019.

Commentary: From 1940 to 1945, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued more than 11,000 secrecy orders on patent applications deemed important to the war effort, forbidding inventors from disclosing their discoveries or filing patents in other countries. Secret patents can prevent inventors from defending their intellectual property or commercializing their inventions and prevent other scientists from learning from the advances to make further discoveries.

Evaluating the impact of secrecy orders is difficult because secret patents were chosen because they were more important than patents allowed to be made public. Instead, a new study examined the differences within secret patents, finding that secret patents filed in 1945 and thus kept secret for less than a year were cited 15 percent more than those filed in 1940, which were kept secret for five years before release. While secrecy orders are less common today, they are still in use, and these results underscore the trade-off that exists between national security restrictions and innovation.