Various inventions that have become well-known were never patented, including the karaoke machine, emoticons, matches, and the magnetic strip. Other noteworthy examples include the polio vaccine (invented by Jonas Salk) and monoclonal antibodies (Cesar Milstein).

I am interested in systemic, empirical studies that look into such unpatented inventions in more detail. More specifically, I am curious as to what different factors influenced why certain inventions were not patented. Was it because of certain political ideals of the inventor, not filing on time, the invention being too much akin to other products or inventions, or something else?

Moreover, I would like to learn what social, political, judicial, and economic factors play a part in how unpatented inventions came to be. Any academic analyses describing the political economic background of (un)patented inventions are therefore of interest to me.

  • An interesting question. I fear you’ll get little help here as this is a quiet corner of the StackExchange community and we aren’t historians or economists.
    – Eric S
    Nov 20, 2022 at 21:47
  • @EricS Thank you. Let's see how things pan out. If I don't get any answers here within a week or two, I'll re-ask the question at History / Law / Economics SE
    – Max Muller
    Nov 20, 2022 at 22:03
  • 1
    @MaxMuller a tricky one imo. The Patent Act requires a legal finding to consider something an 'invention'. Among other hurdles, the patent office (or court) must confirm the apparatus/system was not only novel but nonobvious in view of the prior art at that time (when viewed through lens of a person of ordinary skill in relevant field). This is all to say that the first step of your analysis would logically require you to provide authority that a karaoke machine would have been patentable (tricky). I don't think commercial success or notoriety alone can provide the litmus test there. Nov 23, 2022 at 1:38
  • taking a more broad, global approach might be way to go -- considering condition of economy, evolution of the patent laws, and other context you mentioned, and from there investigating how those mapped to more general stats like the number of patent filings and patents granted, for example. Nov 23, 2022 at 1:42


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