Jocelyn Bosse Presentation: Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe: On the Development of Secret Patents [video]

In her talk, Jocelyn Bosse discussed the apparent paradox of secret patents. The very existence of secret patents would seem to contradict the so-called patent bargain of a temporary monopoly in exchange for disclosure. The patent bargain is frequently used as a justification of the patent system, and a secret patent would then be something of a contradiction in terms. However, the use of secrecy orders, in the name of national interest, can impose secrecy on a patent at any point, even after it has been granted. However, the secrecy is not total, but the patents continue to circulate in some contexts. One way to approach this problem is to view secret patents as exceptions, but Jocelyn’s talk showed that secrecy orders are a quite permanent feature of the patent regime.

Secret patents in three countries were discussed: UK, US and the Soviet Union. In all these countries, invention secrecy regimes aroused in the mid-twentieth century. The Soviet Union was the first jurisdiction to establish a permanent mechanism for patent secrecy (which also included the inventor’s certificate, sometimes presented as a socialist alternative to patents). In all countries, measures to impose secrecy were shaped by the allegiances and hostilities of the time, including espionage affairs.

Jocelyn’s conclusion was that it is unhelpful to view secret patens as an oxymoron, but that secret patents rather should be viewed in light of the general role of patents in controlling the circulation of scientific and technical information.

The discussion to a large extent focused on the patent bargain and to what extent it is a good point of departure to understand secret patents, and if it indeed is useful for understanding the patent system. It also concerned how secrecy orders work in practice, what happens for instance with technologies that have both military and civilian use, and how are secret patents handled in international cooperation. The importance of secrecy as a signal was also discussed.

Jocelyn Bosse is a PhD student at University of Queensland Law School, she lectures at Kings College, London,

Video by LiU communications officer Per Wistbo Nibell. Text by Johanna Dahlin who also chaired the event.


Andrew Ventimiglia Presentation: Figures of Mind: Spiritual Innovation and Military Influence in the Patenting of Neurofeedback Devices [video]

What is the utility of patented neurofeedback devices? What is the connection between these inventions and consumer and marketing technologies? How did some patent applications connect measurement devices to telepathic communication and psychological therapy?  

Andrew Ventimiglia’s talk discusses a book project that traces a genealogy of the promises and the imagination underpinning these devices to military and spiritual/experimental technologies in the post-war era. By focusing on patent applications, Ventimiglia explores the significance and the controversies of these devices, focusing on Puharich v. Brenner, 415 F.2d 979 (D.C. Cir. 1969), a case regarding a device that claimed to expand extra sensory perception and to assist in the study of the so-called extra sensory phenomenon.  

The talk also referred to other patented devices such as e-meters, a particular detector used by Scientology trainers to examine mental states and to identify non-conscious traumas (U.S. Patent 3,290,589). What was remarkable about these devices in the context of their official (patent) examination is how they elicited a tension surrounding discourses between science and deception, and between official discourse and conspiracy theories. Moreover, these inventive devices not only raised issues of validation, but also opened up questions about individual agency in a modern mass-mediated society.  

In making the brain visible as writing, the controversies generated by these devices and the patents that were taken out allow us, according to Ventimiglia, to connect a history of patents to a contested terrain whereby ever-lasting concerns such as scientific legitimacy, truth, manipulation, and fraud were at stake.

Dr. Andrew Ventimiglia is an Assistant Professor of Mass Media with a specialization in media law and ethics in the School of Communication at Illinois State University.  

Video by LiU communications officer Per Wistbo Nibell. Text by Jose Bellido who also chaired the event.


Katrina Jungnickel & Katja May Presetation: The Enemy Has Many Faces”: Insects, Invasions & Inventive Clothing in War and Peace [video]

In the presentation “The Enemy has Many Faces:” Insects, Invasion & Inventive Clothing in War and Peace Katrina Jungnickel and Katja May shared their ongoing research on garments for protection against insects. In historical clothing patents and additional archive material, Jungnickel and May discovered rhetoric that presented insects as an invading force and a threat to colonial infrastructure. Three analytical sections were discovered 1) at war with insects, 2) at work with insects and 3) at leisure with insects. In this eye-opening presentation, Jungnickel and May argue for the socio-political intersection of invasion, colonialism, and citizenship via clothing inventions. Through their alternative methods, such as constructing patented garments (and bringing them to the presentation), both the researchers and the audience came to new insights regarding the clothes’ function, the protection of bodies, and the mastering of nature all in relation to colonial legacy, and violent control of indigenous people and traditional knowledge.

The following discussion included the rhetoric used to describe insects in the patents, the change from patenting garments to patenting fabrics in the 1940s, Jungnickel and May’s research process, and expanding ideas of citizenship through patents.


Katrina Jungnickel & Katja May are based at Goldsmiths, University of London. The presentation is part of their work with the project Politics of Patents, (POP). More on POP here: 

Video by LiU communications officer Per Wistbo Nibell. Text by Isabelle Strömstedt, Johanna Dahlin chaired the event.

Erkan Gürpınar Presentation: Thorstein Veblen on Capital as Knowledge: Some Implications for the Knowledge Economy [video]

Erkan Gürpınar’s presentation “Thorstein Veblen on Capital as Knowledge: Some Implications for the Knowledge Economy” considered how theories on capital developed by the American economist Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) could be used to understand current developments in the so called “knowledge economy”. Gürpınar emphasizes how Veblen criticized earlier theories for treating capital as mainly manifested in material gods and thus neglecting the importance of intangible assets. He then continues to show how Veblen’s critique is central for understanding the potential conflict between ownership and human capital in modern companies. A main argument in Gürpınar’s analysis is that efforts to control intangible assets may have the unintended consequence that employees will be less motivated to “invest” in their own human capital. Another possible consequence could be that companies will replace investment in human capital, like know-how and tacit knowledge, and instead strive to replace skilled employees by technology, which can be more easily protected.

The ensuing dialog involved questions on Veblen and how he related to patents (he did not say much at all specifically about them), and his relation to Marx (he did not like him). The consequences of the current patent regime for skilled workers were also raised in the discussion, both in terms of future developments and by making historical comparisons.

Dr. Erkan Gürpınar is assistant professor and deputy head of the Economics Department at Social Sciences University of Ankara. He received his PhD in Economics from the University of Siena in 2013.

Video by LiU communications officer Per Wistbo Nibell. Text by Björn Hammarfelt who also chaired the event.

Janice Denoncourt presentation: Patents as Capital: Prioritising business model, intangibles and IP rights records and ownership information to support legally mandated corporate reporting [video]

In her presentation, Janice Denoncourt discusses the challenges of making intangible resources, such as patents, visible in corporate accounting and reports. While corporate law and accounting practices have routines and tools to report and value tangible resources, intangible resources and patents tend to be unaccounted for. This tendency to ignore, or even actively hide, patents in corporate reporting is further exacerbated by the common practice of placing a corporation’s patent ownership in separate patent holding companies. Disclosing patents in accounting and corporate reports becomes increasingly relevant in a time when the value of intangible resources often vastly exceeds the value of the tangible resources and patent information in general is becoming increasingly accessible in public databases.

The importance of making intangible resources and patents visible in corporate reporting goes to the heart of the question of corporate transparency and accountability, towards shareholders as well as to customers and the general public. Accounting for patents is instrumental not only to properly value corporations but also to ethically evaluate their business practices and to prevent insider trading. Furthermore, the invisibility of patents in accounting makes it much harder to trace the chain of ownership of patents over time, compared to tangible resources such as real estate where it is usually much easier to find records of past ownership.

In worst case scenarios, the inability to properly account for the character and quality of patents as corporate properties also opens for outright fraud. One of the most blatant examples of this being the infamous case of the biotech company Theranos, where Elizabeth Holmes managed to raise huge investments based on patents to faulty innovations that were never properly scrutinized or accounted for.

Dr. Janice Denoncourt is Associate Professor at Nottingham Law School, she is founder and leader of the NLS Intellectual Property Research Group at the Centre for Business and Insolvency Law (CBIL). More here

Video by LiU communications officer Per Wistbo Nibell. Text by Martin Fredriksson who also chaired the event.