A previous version of this working paper was originally published in December 2020.

Does social distancing harm innovation? We estimate the effect of nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) — policies that restrict interactions in an attempt to slow the spread of disease — on local invention. We construct a panel of issued patents and NPIs adopted by 50 large U.S. cities during the 1918 flu pandemic. Difference-in-differences estimates show that cities adopting longer NPIs did not experience a decline in patenting during the pandemic relative to short-NPI cities and recorded higher patenting afterward. Rather than reduce local invention by restricting localized knowledge spillovers, NPIs adopted during the pandemic may have preserved other inventive factors.

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