In March 2012, the National Science Foundation released the results of its "Business Research and Development and Innovation Survey" study, a rigorous, careful, wide-ranging longitudinal study on the use of trademark, copyright, and patents in American business. The study concluded that, overall, most businesses don't rate these protections as a significant factor in their success (in 2010, 87.2% said trademarks were "not important"; 90.1% said the same of copyright, and 96.2% said the same of patents).
What's striking about the survey is that even fields that are traditionally viewed as valuing these protections were surprisingly indifferent to them — for example, only 51.4% of software businesses rated copyright as "very important."
In a very good post, GWU Political Science PhD candidate Gabriel J. Michael contrasts the obscurity of this landmark study with the incredible prominence enjoyed by a farcical USPTO study released last year that purported to show that "the entire U.S. economy relies on some form of IP" and that "IP-intensive industries" created 40 million American jobs in 2010. The study's methodology was a so sloppy as to be unsalvageable — for example, the study claimed that anyone who worked at a grocery store was a beneficiary of "strong IP protection."
The NSF study doesn't merely totally refute the USPTO's findings, it does so using a well-documented, statistically valid, neutral methodology that was calculated to find the truth, rather than scoring political points for the copyright lobby. It's a study in contrasts between evidence-based policy production and policy-based evidence production.
61.7% of businesses manufacturing computer and electronic products report that patents are "not important" to them.
96.3% of businesses with less than 500 employees report that patents are "not important" to them.
45.6% of businesses with 25,000 or more employees report that patents are "not important" to them.
53.6% of businesses classified in the information sector (NAICS code 51 – i.e., a sector we'd expect to rely heavily on copyright) report that copyrights are "not important" to them.
Overall, businesses report that trade secrets are the most important form of intellectual property protection, with 13.2% of businesses calling trade secrets "very important" or "somewhat important." Trademarks are a close second, with copyrights and patents significantly farther behind.
Trailing in last place is sui generis protection for semiconductor mask works, although that is no surprise.
When asked, vast majority of businesses say IP is not important [Gabriel J. Michael/To Promote the Progress?]