NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Inventing Prizes: A Historical Perspective on Innovation Awards and Technology Policy

B. Zorina Khan

NBER Working Paper No. 21375
Issued in July 2015
NBER Program(s):   DAE   DEV   LE   POL   PR

Prizes for innovations are currently experiencing a renaissance, following their marked decline during the nineteenth century. However, Daguerre’s “patent buyout,” the longitude prize, inducement prizes for butter substitutes and billiard balls, the activities of the Royal Society of Arts and other “encouragement” institutions, all comprise historically inaccurate and potentially misleading case studies. Daguerre, for instance, never obtained a patent in France and, instead, lobbied for government support in a classic example of rent-seeking. This paper surveys empirical research using more representative samples drawn from Britain, France, and the United States, including “great inventors” and their ordinary counterparts, and prizes at industrial exhibitions. The results suggest that administered systems of rewards to innovators suffered from a number of disadvantages in design and practice, some of which might be inherent to their non-market orientation. These findings in part explain why innovation prizes lost favour as a technology policy instrument in both the United States and Europe in the period of industrialization and economic growth.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21375

Published: B. Zorina Khan, 2015. "Inventing Prizes: A Historical Perspective on Innovation Awards and Technology Policy," Business History Review, vol 89(04), pages 631-660.

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