Intellectual Property Rights and the promotion of innovation

As I’m preparing to publish a book on exactly this topic, here’s a fun item.

Patents are supposed to promote innovation by protecting only really novel inventions. Otherwise, if people would be able to patent existing technology (known as “prior art” in patent law), patents would slow down innovation, rather than speed it up.

In 2001, the Australian patent system was reformed. Immediately after the reform, a patent attorney called John Keogh, submitted a patent application for a “circular transportation facilitation device”. Or, as it is more commonly known, the wheel.

Within weeks, the patent was granted. Back in 2001, the wheel was considered a new, useful invention, not previously known, and with real inventiveness towards the then current state of technology. As officially attested by the Australian government officials of its patent office.

As a result, both Mr Keogh and the Australian patent office were awarded the 2001 IgNobel award for technology.

The patent office obviously thought that this drawing was representing a novel invention:

circular transportation facilitation device

Patent drawing


The full text of the patent application is available here:

patent of wheel full text

You will see it is an obvious prank. But the distribution monopoly that patents consist of, was duly awarded. In the mean time, it has been revoked.

In my upcoming book, I will use this example – and show it is, unfortunately, not really an outlier, but a logical consequence of the current patent system.

Watch this space.



One thought on “Intellectual Property Rights and the promotion of innovation

  1. Rubal Walia says:

    You can’t be serious. Really!

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