Abstract: Independent Inventors in an Era of Burgeoning R&D

Eric S. Hintz


The early twentieth century represented a transitional period in the history of American innovation. Historians have typically assumed that the rise of industrial research labs at firms like GE and AT&T signaled an end to the era of heroic, independent inventors like Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. However, a close look at the historical U.S. patent data shows that patents granted to individual inventors outnumbered corporate patents until the early 1930s and represented nearly 50 percent of total patents through the 1950s. In this paper, I explore the case of independent inventor Samuel Ruben and his primary licensee, the P.R. Mallory Company. Unlike earlier inventor-entrepreneurs, Ruben preferred to license his patents to manufacturing firms and serve as their consultant. Meanwhile, Mallory followed a hybrid innovation strategy, working with outside inventors like Ruben, while simultaneously investing in its own integrated R&D laboratories. For Mallory, the locus of innovation resided both inside and outside the firm.

BEH On-Line Paper