Reviews and Comments

1. Peter B. Maggs

Professor of Law, Clifford M. and Bette A. Carney Chair in Law, University of Illinois College of Law.

Gewerblicher Rechtschutz und Urheberrecht (GRUR) - Internationaler Teil, 2011, Heft 5.

Dr. Martens has presented a comprehensive account of secret patenting from the Russian revolution to the present day. The account combines a historical narrative of people and institutions with sophisticated statistical studies of secret patenting. The studies are based upon the use of declassified archives and the clever application of the techniques of Sovietology to the limited amount of published information available for the period from 1917 to 2010. His study is more comprehensive and more solidly grounded in hard data than anything else published on the topic. It can be useful reading not only for those interested in secret patents or patents in general, but also for the larger audience, those interested in the history of the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia, and those interested in the role of government in promoting (or discouraging) innovation and spread of information. The longitudinal study of one aspect of the Soviet (and post-Soviet) system provides extremely valuable insights into forces that operated throughout the system at different times. Analysis of the flawed innovation system sheds light on the fundamental reasons for the failure of the Soviet state planning system and the loss of the Cold War.

The story he tells is in many ways a sad one. For the period from the 1930s to the 1950s, the names of those prominent in the administration of the patent and inventor's certificate systems are more often than not accompanied by his footnotes indicating when they were arrested and shot. The narrative for for the era of state planning, from the late 1920s until its collapse in the late 1980s, documents a fundamental contradiction between terror-enforced state planning, devoted to ratcheting up the output of the same kinds of products and reducing the costs of production and innovation involving taking substantial risks and developing new products. In an era when failure to meet a production plan could mean execution or sentence to a labor camp, no system of incentives for high-risk innovation could be effective. The author demonstrates that there was fierce competition in the state run economic system. However, the competition was not to make better products, but to secure better power positions in the bureaucratic institutional hierarchy.

There is no doubt that there were areas which, despite secrecy, there was highly successful innovation. An obvious example was the rapid Soviet development of the hydrogen bomb. What Dr. Martens shows, particularly by comparison with the United Kingdom and the United States, was that the area of secrecy was far too broad, the number of secret inventor's certificates and patents many times too great, and the declassification process much too slow.

Will Russia be able to escape from this past and compete with the world's technological powerhouses? Unfortunately the new Skolkovo project, designed to create a Russian Silicon Valley, appears to overemphasize state planning and under-emphasize legally-guaranteed protections from entrepreneurship.

2. Email from Vil Sultanovich Mirzayanov (October 7, 2011)

Senior Soviet chemical weapons scientist at the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GosNIIOKhT). Author of State Secrets: An Insider's Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program

"I was one of the participants of this area. I believe that your book is very interesting and a valuable source for similar studies on the subject. I didn't know about many things in your book or even guess about them."

3. Malcolm R. Hill

Professor Emeritus of Russian and East European Industrial Studies

Loughborough University, United Kingdom

Slavic Review, Vol. 71, No. 1 (SPRING 2012), pp. 190-191

This book is based on almost forty years of research by the author, first for a doctoral thesis in the 1970s followed by further work in the 1980s, concluding with a period of study in the Russian patent office from 2006 to 2008. This research has also been informed by insights gained during the author's employment in the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Trade Directorate of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The first three chapters provide a historical background regarding the establishment of a patent regime within the framework of the Soviet socialist economy, focusing on early attempts to launch a patent system during the years of the New Economic Policy and the introduction of central planning in 1929. These chapters highlight the limited rights and benefits allocated to Soviet authors of patents compared to those available in capitalist countries.

These chapters also focus on the conflicting problems of introducing patents along- side other products of advanced technology within the expanding Soviet economy. On the one hand, senior policymakers and administrators were anxious to see success in the industrial implementation of modern technology including patents, while factory directors were averse to the disturbance of production and consequent negation of success in meeting output targets. As the book explains, the compromise was often to focus on process improvement through manufacturing rationalization, rather than on widespread product innovation.

Although the effects of these policy decisions remain as a background to the book, the main focus of the text is the description of the two separate but sometimes connected systems of patenting that were developed as a consequence of the division of Soviet industry into two parallel universes for civilian and defense-related production. This separation is described in chapter 4, together with the establishment and expanding role of the Department of Military Inventions.

The book then focuses on Soviet patent organization over two distinct time periods, namely 1936-1956 (chapters 5 and 6) and 1959-1991 (chapter 7), enlarging on the major policy discussions in the mid-to-late 1930s that focused on the issues of centralization or decentralization, national security and secrecy, and the necessity of implementing novel and advanced technology into the expanding Soviet industrial infrastructure. A major problem arose concerning how to maintain secrecy if defense-related technologies were being evaluated in a civilian organization. As the book explains, the solution was to allocate the assessment of secret patent applications to senior organizations within the defense sector and security apparatus, which helped to maintain security but deprived the civilian industries of many technologies to improve their product designs and process capabilities. Furthermore, the problems of patent implementation in the civilian sectors continued to be hindered by the quantitative pressures of production plan fulfillment.

Several of these problems continued into the 1960s and 1970s, particularly the difficulties of accurately defining the intangible thematic tasks of patent development within quantitative plan targets. Furthermore, the negative impact of secrecy on both defense and civilian industries became exacerbated. In addition, the continuing and accelerating technological competition between the USSR and the west made industrial innovation even more imperative, and the book explains the consequent improvements to patent management. Just before the fragmentation of the USSR in 1991, however, the concept of secret patents was removed from Soviet legislative procedure.

These chapters are then followed by a discussion of the patent system in post-Soviet Russia from 1991 to the present, commencing with the reintroduction of secrecy in patent legislation. This final chapter also alludes to what is one of the major questions for post-Soviet Russia: how can it use its technological assets to compete effectively against other industrially developed or industrializing nations having either higher gross domestic product per capita or lower labor costs?

The book provides a wealth of detail on the Soviet and post-Soviet patent system and will be of interest to all scholars in the field of Russian studies and patent organization, but particularly to those with some knowledge of product and process innovation in planned and post-planned economies. As well as descriptions of the changes in policy and organization, the book also contains useful analyses of the areas and content of Soviet patents, both within the main body of the text and in the appendixes. The book is extremely informative but a concluding chapter would have been useful to summarize the main findings and suggest possible future research: this might include, for example, studies of the relative technological levels (both historical and contemporary) of Soviet and post-Soviet patents.

4. Comment posted on Russian website

The Russian website asked it readers to comment on whether they loved or hated Soviet and Russian inventions. Russian website

SWMoscowite responded on 15 June 2010 as follows:

(My translation). I work in the Patent Office and, like nobody else on this site, I know the subject. Of course, there were sound inventions, but the majority of inventors' certificates for USSR inventions were made of some sort of nonsense, if only to fulfill a plan for the number of inventions and give the finger to the West, saying we're such hot stuff for producing so many inventions. And quite a few of the inventions were secret. Not because of any potential threat to state security for the USSR that their declassification might cause, but simply because it would be embarrassing to claim them as inventions at all. We had several hundred thousand secret inventions, many of which haven't been declassified, whereas in the USA they're a countable number. In this regard there's an article by John Martens, "Secret Soviet and Russian Inventions." "9x9 Chessboard with Two Queens" -- what's that for a fucking invention? So I could patent a 10x10 chessboard, but it's a shame that my employment doesn't give me the right to do it. (Russian original)

5. John Hart

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Sweden.

Contemporary Security Policy, Volume 33, Issue 3, 2012, pp. 604-605.

This volume reflects Martens' lifetime experience and research since the 1970s, including his doctoral thesis and Russian archival and patent research. Now retired, Martens previously worked at the US Department of Commerce and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The book is partly based on a database he created which includes some 4,566 formerly secret Soviet patents published between 1942 and 2007.

Martens outlines the legal and structural arrangements for the award of certificates of invention or patents throughout the Soviet period. Planners had to deal with a variety of themes and inherent tensions (or contradictions). One was determining the correct Marxist-Leninist-Soviet understanding for structuring patents and/or certificates of invention. In theory, such a system ought to have been distinct from and superior to the patent systems in capitalist countries. A freer information flow was a posited advantage of the Soviet system. For example, applications were sometimes passed along to domestic industry while they were evaluated for certification or patenting. More generally, Soviet officials debated which recipients should benefit and how (that is, individuals, enterprises, or the state).

An errant understanding of policy or a failure to implement existing procedure could result in an official's arrest or execution. Grigory N. Mel'nichansky, the chairman of the Committee for Inventions, was shot in 1937. The previous year he had unwisely addressed a memo to Stalin noting the importance of his committee and complaining of an excessive number of unsuitable applications that were hindering review and evaluation.

Even successful inventions did not necessarily result in increased or improved production in either the civilian or military sectors. Some inventors refused to apply for secret certification. For example, in the 1920s the Department of Military Inventions and the Revolutionary Military Council took steps to oppose efforts by some inventors to circumvent the military secret inventions procedures in favour of open civilian invention applications. In addition, prior to World War II, some military facilities forbade their employees from submitting invention certification applications directly to a joint inventions committee and instead insisted that any such application should be passed through the facility leadership first.

Another conundrum for Soviet policymakers was whether to offer certificates of invention only (in effect, like an academic publication) or to award more standard patents that offered the possibility for financial compensation or professional advancement. Soviet policy shifted back and forth between the two models.

Another perennial question was whether the Soviet Union (later Russia) should have a centralized review body for patent or certificate of invention applications or a decentralized system. For much of the history of the Soviet Union and for Russia today, the system has been decentralized. This is partly because multiple Ministry of Defence (MOD) bodies have been given the authority to review and grant patents or certificates of invention. There are indications that different defence bodies have granted overlapping certification. Finally, central planners sometimes deemed patents to be useful for application, while industry enterprise directors not infrequently felt that directing the necessary resources to adapt inventions for application was not worthwhile. Thus, a useful invention was not necessarily practical.

Martens estimates that although 500,000 to 600,000 Soviet inventors' patents remain secret, the majority of secret inventors' certificates granted prior the mid 1950s have now been declassified. In 2010, Martens's database provided a range of application numbers for secret inventions registered by the MOD in 1936-1991 which, in turn, total 556,732. In 1993 the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries agreed a mechanism to review the possible declassification of secret Soviet certificates of invention and patents (the three Baltic states do not participate). Martens also provides statistics on review and declassification under this framework.

As part of his consideration of Soviet and Russian invention statistics, Martens considers the intricacies associated with Soviet attempts to prevent the total number and type of secret patents from being made discernible when declassified (for example, exchanging the classified patent number to a non-classified registry). The appendices include extracts of legal frameworks from the 1920s to the present. The author also states that any consideration of Soviet technology capacity and development would be incomplete without referring to the now publicly available archives at the Samara branch of the Russian Archive for Scientific and Technical Documentation.

The book provides context for the problems of secrecy and its costs. It should interest those who follow defence and security acquisition, data mining techniques, and arms control and disarmament verification assessment methodologies. In August 2012 Russia joined the World Trade Organization. The members undertake to uphold a variety intellectual property rights protection measures, including those contained in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. Partly for this reason, it will be interesting to note how Russia's current system will evolve in the broader context of international disputes on whether and how information should be considered to be 'sensitive' in economic or military spheres. Also at stake is the broader relevance of patenting procedures where companies with the deepest financial resources systematically pursue litigation in order to acquire as many patents as possible. The interaction between secrecy and intellectual property rights in Russia will be interesting to watch in coming years, with implications for Russian military innovation and its place in the world economy.