Heavy Lifting - thoughts and web finds by an economist
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Thursday, December 14, 2006
Google Patents allows us to search the entire patent database. My "discovery" comes on the heels of the UTA Department of Economics seminar last Friday given by Yi Deng of SMU. Prof Deng is looking at patent data in the context of knowledge spillovers. She revealed (and colleague Mike Ward agreed) that while the patent data are freely available they are not yet easy to work with. However, as the patent data becomes more democratically available, I think we will see a lot of interesting research in the next few years.
While I was goofing off with Google Patents, I happened to search for NASCAR. It turns out there are 189 patents that contain the word NASCAR. This got me searching for patents containing other sports - I started with the big ones like baseball, swimming, and so forth. My expectation was that more popular sports by definition have larger potential and actual markets (by number of people if not by amount of money), and should attract more innovation in the form of new patents. Things seemed to follow that general pattern but the ocular estimator is notoriously misleading. I moved to a more "sophisticated" statistical test with the goal of spending ten minutes or less.
I gathered sport participation rates at the National Sporting Goods Association (four minutes), looked up the exact sports titles in Google Patents, and recorded the number of patents found (five minutes). I threw the data into STATA and here's the list ordered by total patents (part = percentage of people over 7 that participated in the sport in 2005)
We were a litte past the the ten minute mark at this point, so I just calculated the Spearman Rank correlation coefficient between the number of patents and total participation rates:
At the eleven minute mark I had a (not so sophisticated) test of the hypothesis. The evidence suggests a positive and statistically significant relationship between a sport's popularity and the number of patents that contain that sport's name. Whew.
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