Towards Innovation with Care
New Horizons in the Economics of Innovation series
Edited by Lars Fuglsang
11. The “Mad Max Puzzle”: positioning and the lone inventor Jerome Davis and Lee N. Davis Individuals, much like companies and other institutions, must create relationships across actors with diﬀering starting points and approaches to innovation. This chapter examines the problem of the lone inventor desirous of getting his invention to market without its value being unreasonably appropriated by a “partner” (here Big Widget Inc.), which we term the “Mad Max Puzzle.” It is generally assumed that independent inventors, whether their inventions are patented or unpatented, will be cheated by the Big Widgets of this world. The argument is that since Big Widget has the capability to appropriate this value, she will necessarily do so. We disagree. We begin our analysis with “Mad Max,” the inventor of the proverbial mousetrap. We demonstrate the importance of positioning with respect to time, with respect to third (or fourth) parties, and with respect to the negotiation agenda. In conclusion, we examine the well publicised case of Robert Kearns, a lone inventor whose invention of the intermittent windshield wiper was appropriated by the Ford Motor Co., to pinpoint how through positioning himself better, he might have avoided a lifetime of lawsuits. INTRODUCTION Every capitalist society has its mythical lone genius inventor (we will call him “Mad Max”). Mad Max invents an ingenious mousetrap, machine, whatever (we will call it a “widget”). Mad Max lacks the resources to develop his widget, or sometimes even to get it patented (if it is patentable). He approaches...
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