|This post begat some good debate, albeit about quantifying the undefinable.|
In that context, I took ftth's downstream references to patent databases as one of many possible proxies, remembering again that we can't quantify what we can't define.
Re: "...made-to-order innovation, like so many belt-buckles coming off an assembly line, appears to be a mandate within many organizations today (some outfits go so far as to create innovation groups under a variety of banners and assign quotas to them), and it just doesn't work that way unless, of course, those groups are seeded with individuals who are predisposed to being creative in the first place, no matter whether they work in an incubator or in a jail cell;"
Incubating creativity in a corporate environment often seems like a form of elusive magic. Shining successes are prominent in fields littered with failure. Given the right personnel, sometimes it's a simple matter of direct pressure:
"Andrew Odlyzko from AT&T Bell Laboratories concurs: "Management is *not* telling a researcher, 'You are the best we could find, here are the tools, please go off and find something that will let us leapfrog the competition.' Instead, the attitude is, 'Either you and your 999 colleagues double the performance of our microprocessors in the next 18 months, to keep up with the competition, or you are fired.'"
Or direct pressure under inspired leadership:
Steve Jobs may be today's dazzling wonder, but he's hardly the first of a kind. The types of creativity sponsored in corporate environments range from engineered to artistic.
And lest we forget, corporations are hardly benefactors in the IP game. Nathan Myhrvold, formerly Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft is now CEO at Intellectual ventures. He said:
"Large tech companies do amass significant portfolios, but often not directly related to their business model. If a rival company asserts a patent, a company like this plays defense and threaten the asserter's products right back. While "defense" sounds benign, what it can mean in practice is having enough patents that you can steal from anybody else with impunity. Between big companies this works like a powerful shield, much like the doctrine of mutually assured destruction with nukes. But the shield is impotent against universities, companies without products or independent inventors. Owners of large defensive portfolios hate that...
... Many of the largest tech companies have a standing policy that engineers are not allowed to read patents or check whether their work infringes. Why bother to look, if you know you'll find lots of infringement? Besides the cost, it's a distraction that might hurt time to market. Their strategy is simple -- damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead...
... The trouble is, this cavalier attitude toward the law runs afoul of the rights of legitimate patent holders and the big tech companies know this. Rather than pay out a small fraction of their huge profits, they're fighting a campaign to weaken patent laws for the little guy. Some of this has taken place in Congress under the banner of "patent reform."
Intellectual property, including open source, patents, artistic creation and copyright has been discussed extensively on this thread. So far, legislators have resisted corporate attempts (including astroturfing and lobbying) to corral the patent process for their own benefit.
Despite the fact that much invention and creativity is sponsored in corporate environments back-yard inventors still exist. Their independent creativity, though often legally disputed, is still recognized in law. The patent process has been discolored, but not yet corrupted by corporate interests.