Feynman on his patents

Richard Feynman was awarded patents. Here is a recording of an interview that describes how it all came about. You can also read about the episode in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman? Could be academic inventions are a dime a dozen, or a dollar a pop. But how does anything of that translate into social benefit? The patent license would appear to be a tiny part of the arrangement.

More important, for Halloween, is the bit about chocolate cookies. Feynman used his dollar in consideration for assignment to buy candy for the office. What is the patent worth to Feynman? Should he have been more motivated by money? Or perhaps, another, more clever way, should being motivated by money, once there are patents involved, be seen as a good thing for academic scientists? If that’s the case, then somehow the money interest and the “value of the patents” have to be connected, that somehow academic scientists should have a keen interest in getting “top dollar” for the value of their inventions. Just saying.

If it is a good thing for academic scientists to be motivated by money, then what is it, exactly, that universities pay to their inventors as consideration for taking title to their work? That is, why should academic scientists be motivated by money from patents yet not be expected to want that money from their universities, at the time the universities demand assignment of their inventive work, when the university should be paying them fair market value, then and there? And how much candy would that purchase? Keep in mind that most universities set up their patent policy so that the royalty sharing is not part of that consideration, but rather an administrative gesture. Those policies don’t even obligate the university to get any royalties. Some universities policies even disclaim such an obligation.

So what is the “good consideration” that is on offer by the universities, and expressly agreed to, and accepted in exchange for that assignment of title by these academics who should be motivated by money, as “entrepreneurs,” or at least who should be filled with gratitude that university officials, at least, are motivated by money?

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