Preserving Free Innovators' Legal Rights

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Rules and regulations are so pervasive in many countries that it is easy to assume that only professionals are allowed—or should be allowed— to innovate. Is it really safe to let just anyone innovate? Or, as my mother would sometimes urgently frame the question to my father: "Arthur, are you going to just stand there and let your son do that? He might blow up the house!” (Actually, I never did.)

It is true that innovation is not always risk-free and that many individuals and social institutions are risk averse. So it is fortunate for us all that individuals, especially in common law democracies like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, have broad legal rights to develop and use innovations.

In this chapter, drawing on work by Torrance and von Hippel (2015), I review the fundamental legal rights of household sector innovators, including free innovators. I then describe how governments can and do encroach on those important rights—often without intent, and in pursuit of other objectives. Andrew Torrance and I conclude that a strengthened social awareness of the need to protect individuals' rights to innovate would be very valuable. We suggest how this might be accomplished.

 
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