The Heirs of Creativity


A short paper published this week by NBER from authors Albert N. Link and Christopher J. Ruhm takes a simple but oft-neglected look into patents and creativity; namely, how creative parents influence their potentially creative children.  

The abstract states:

In this paper we show that the patenting behavior of creative entrepreneurs is correlated with the patenting behavior of their fathers, which we refer to as a source of the entrepreneurs’ human capital endowments. Our argument for this relationship follows from established theories of developmental creativity, and our empirical analysis is based on survey data collected from MIT’s Technology Review winners.

The authors begin with the premise that too little attention is given to the “human capital” involved in influencing someone’s likelihood of coming up with a patent. The study claims to focus “on the developmentally-acquired creativity,” meaning that the developmental experiences of an individual (which include things like parents) influence their creativity.

It should be noted that the study focuses on technological creativity in particular, not fine or performing arts.  The researchers studied invention winners of the Technology Review, MIT’s innovation magazine, from 1999 – 2009.

They found that fathers did have a creative influence on their offspring – invention winners were likely to have one or more patents if their father also did.

[C]reative entrepreneurs with fathers who patented are nearly 26 percentage points more likely to patent themselves compared to a similarly creative entrepreneur whose father did not patent.

They also found that those of Asian descent and those with a graduate degree in science or engineering are relatively more likely to patent than other creative entrepreneurs.

None of the innovation winners had mothers who could claim a patent as their own…though this is likely the symptom of a problem of the culture of human endowment, or lack thereof, over the past 50 years for women in the sciences.


Developmentally-acquired creativity? Sounds more like developmentally-acquired system of values in which a parent instills in his child an appreciation of science and the idea that acquiring a patent is worthwhile. Don't see a link to 'creativity'. Same as children of athletes don't have a developmentally-acquired fitness, they simply grow up surrounded by sports and learn to like and appreciate it.

Mike B

I would hardly call patents a sound measure of creativity. The process is so convoluted and irritating that the parent is simply transferring knowledge of obtaining a patent instead of any sort of creativity. Furthermore, actually seeking out a patent is in and of itself a cultural attitude that promotes personal good at the expense of public good. Large portions of the population are content with sharing their ideas without attempting to monetize them.

patient attornee

Assumption- all patents are taken for the purpose of the attempt to monetize them. I can think of one real good reason to take out a patent that, motivationally, has nothing to do with money.

wife, woman, artist, sociologist

Dear Patient attornee;

I asked my graphic designer husband and artist about logos. He explained to me as follows, When a logo is creatively altered (i.e., a new logo is created by 2 existing images brought together) to make a point never made before and the new image is patented, turns out it is something new in its own right i.e., new by virtue of the fact that it looks at things in a completely new light. So no wonder one takes out a patent. But when someone takes the thoughts behind that image and uses them to their own personal/political and economic advantage (too aggrandize themselves) and refuses to dignify their source with even a respectful handshake or genuine nod of well wishes, I call that a form of I won't say what ... Looks like we are somewhat moving back to a primitive time re women or perhaps we almost have not left. Except now we have voices. I have a painting by an american painter that has been in my family for around 150 years. It portrays the "Merchant of Venice" as a Rabbi. I never looked at the painting from the artist's perspective before or thought about religion in that way and, as a intensely religious person, I hope that I never have to again i.e., other than by looking at this painting by a 19th Century American artist by the name of Eugene Craig. Wow- I now understand his' genius.


Philip Moore

Mike is right on.
Having gone through the process of acquiring a patent, I can tell you that the correlation between patent granted and creativity is far weaker than the correlation between patent granted and familiarity with the process (or having a good patent lawyer).