Innovation: Who benefits and who’s barred?

By Clare Becker

In 1886, Shelbyville, Illinois resident Josephine Cochran noticed her dishes were getting chipped from constantly washing them by hand. Female patent holders were few and far between back then, but that didn’t stop Cochran from applying for and receiving a patent for a dish washing machine, what we recognize today as the modern dishwasher.

A new study by Sarada, an assistant professor of management and human resources at the Wisconsin School of Business, looks at shifts in the demographics of American inventors from 1870-1940. Published in Explorations in Economic History with co-authors Michael Andrews of the National Bureau of Economic Research and Nicholas Ziebarth of Auburn University, the paper examines who benefits from innovation and who is excluded from entry during this early era of American history.

The team’s research is included in a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) report given to Congress as it votes on the SUCCESS Act, a bill that advocates for greater study of and legislation for increased numbers of women, minority, and veteran patent holders.

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