Every day millions of Americans take that all-to-familiar trip to the grocery store. In turn thousands of items await them, lined on long shelves in a neat and orderly fashion. A few employees might be wandering the store, but a few more man the check-out counters. Imagine if “self service” grocery stores never came into existence, or imagine that only Wal-Mart was allowed to and not Target. Employees would stand behind counters and grab products as customers told them which to grab. If a customer wants 100 items, the employee and all other customers would waste incalculable time waiting. Would this be a better world? Surprisingly, this might have been the world in which we live.
Clarence Saunders, the “inventor” of the self service grocery stores filed a patent on the process. But luckily for the modern world, this patent was not enforced by the courts. Saunders filled several lawsuits against competitors, but one competitor (William Bonner McCarty) found a different grocer who was doing “self-service” before Saunders.
Image a world in which McCarthy could not find that pre-existing self-service store, or imagine a world in which that first store filled the patent. Patents destroy innovation and retard the standard of living.