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Research Question

  1. What are the impacts of the inventions of the winners of the Lemelson-MIT Prize?

Inventions, such as new tools, devices, processes, and medicines, have provided significant benefits to society. Inventions help people around the world live longer, healthier, and more-productive lives and provide new ways to build, move, communicate, heal, learn, and play. Understanding and clearly communicating the value of invention can help policymakers appreciate the benefits of supporting the development of inventions and of addressing inequities that suppress the development of female and minority inventors.

In this report, researchers use the inventions of Lemelson-MIT Prize winners as examples to illustrate the scientific, technological, economic, and social impacts that inventions can have on society. The impacts of this group's inventions are considered through evaluation of all prize winners in aggregate and through individual case studies of the prize winners from three particular years. Researchers highlight the substantial benefits to society, both nationally and globally, that have been provided by these inventors' works. The inventions discussed in this report have spawned new products, companies, and, in some cases, entirely new industries. Research also demonstrates that there are many different paths to the successful development and commercialization of inventions, with the success or failure of new inventions not always being entirely under the inventor's control.

Key Findings

Economic impacts are reflected in the more than 180 organizations affiliated with the Lemelson-MIT Prize winners

  • Several publicly traded firms founded by Lemelson-MIT Prize winners had market valuations from $100 million to more than $100 billion as of 2020.
  • As of 2019, 35 other companies founded by prize winners were acquired or merged with other business entities in market transactions valued at approximately $7.5 billion (in 2019 dollars).
  • The still-independent business entities founded by prize winners (for which financial data are available) collectively employ approximately 40,000 workers and generate total annual revenues exceeding $54 billion.

Many inventions' impacts go beyond the direct economic effect of the invention

  • In some cases, inventions not only provided the scientific and technological foundation for new companies but were revolutionary ideas that spawned entirely new industries.
  • The prize winners' articles and patents have been widely cited by subsequent research and patents.

Inventors help solve major challenges facing society

  • For example, several companies founded by prize winners have efforts underway to address challenges stemming from the coronavirus disease 2019, including blood testing for antibodies and technology to support public health initiatives.

Maximizing the impact of an invention requires support

  • Addressing challenges in applying and manufacturing an invention, as well as navigating regulatory or business-management hurdles, requires a talented team and (in some cases) luck.
  • A lack of exposure to role models and support networks is limiting inventor diversity. Programs and policies that support the development of both inventions and inventors remain important for ensuring opportunity.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the the Lemelson-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Program and the Lemelson Foundation and conducted by the Community Health and Environmental Policy Program within Social and Behavioral Policy Program.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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