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Tesla vs. Edison – We bring our i-index to this Match-up

Patent quality has been a contentious and an elusive topic. The quality of a patent may refer to different characteristics of a patent or to its applicability and usage. It could also refer to its commercial value or its ability to be legally enforced. With such a wide range of criteria and contexts impacting patent quality, it becomes difficult to conclusively define or establish the value of individual patents and portfolios.

In the case of an individual inventor, assessing the value and impact of the patents they hold is a matter of interest to them as well.

Relecura’s i-index offers a simple and effective approach to measure the quality of an inventor’s patents.

The i-index provides an objective measure of the impact of the patents held by an inventor at any given time. The i-index takes into account both the number of patents as well as their citations, to gauge the overall impact of a set of patents.

Let us apply the i-index to one of the most iconic of inventor match-ups – Tesla vs. Edison.

Tesla vs. Edison – Head-to-Head

There has been an unending debate on who was the better inventor – Tesla or Edison. Both the inventors contributed immensely to the scientific community and the practical world in different ways. Their approaches and perspectives differed from each other. Edison is revered for his contribution to the world with practical solutions. Tesla has a large number of fans and admirers among the geeks, due in no small part to his futuristic ideas and inventions, many of which have come to pass.

Thomas Edison was also a businessman along with being an inventor. He developed several useful devices including the electric light bulb, the phonograph and the motion picture camera. Nikola Tesla was an electrical and mechanical engineer, and a physicist who is best known for the modern alternating current (AC) electrical supply system and his work on radio transmission. Edison is said to hold more than 1000 patents and Tesla is estimated to possess close to 280 patents.

And the winner is …

We calculated the i-index for both inventors and their “report cards” are presented below. Tesla, with an i-index of 21.49, scored over Edison who came in at 13.11.

One possible explanation for this is that though Edison holds a much larger number of patents than Tesla, Tesla’s patents have been cited to a greater extent. This demonstrates how the i‑index incorporates both the overall number of patents an inventor holds, as well as the far-reaching impact of the inventions in the form of citations – to come up with a composite score.

Further context and words of caution

We need to view the above in the light of the following facts. Working with patent documents from the pre-digital era is tricky. The completeness of the patent data in terms of tracking the patents held and the citation data is sometimes spotty. This will affect the i-index calculation.

Furthermore, comparing the i-index of inventors across eras should be avoided. The pace of change in individual sectors and the number of patents filed in each, in different jurisdictions and during different time periods vary greatly. Keep this in mind if you wish to use your i-index to go up against one of your inventor heroes.

For more information on how to interpret the i-index, read this.

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