Whistleblowers for Innovation

We reward whistle blowers who help to prosecute people who are defrauding the government by giving them a share of the proceeds. Bradley Birkenfeld, for example, provided evidence to the US government that the Swiss bank UBS was illegally enabling US tax evaders. The case led to a $780 million dollar fine against UBS and Birkenfeld collected a sweet cut, $104 million.

Derek Khanna at the R Street Institute suggests a similar system to reward innovators (pdf).

Imagine a research team developed a cancer drug that could save the federal government $1 billion a year. Under the innovation savings program, a portion of those savings would flow back to the researchers themselves, in exchange for their not patenting the technology. In order to be eligible for a prize payout, the innovation would need to meet a minimum cost-savings threshold established by Congress (e.g., $100 million). Since the researchers would be paid out of funds already authorized by Congress, there would be no additional cost to taxpayers, who instead would expect to see still additional savings.

…This idea is directly inspired by the centuries-old concept of “qui tam” claims. Qui tam statutes allowed a private citizen to bring action on behalf of a government to recover a penalty….

But programs that seek only to stamp out waste, fraud and abuse do little to encourage the kinds of innovations that would reduce costs on the “front end.” That’s the goal of the innovation savings program: to provide a profit mechanism, separate and apart from patents and direct subsidies, to encourage innovations that could revolutionize such fields as medical technology, energy efficiency and payment processing

The benefits of such a system are not only that it avoids some of the costs of patents but that it would also work when patents are not available. It only works when the government is a big player but that’s a huge share of the economy.


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