Usually when we're talking about issues with the patent system, we're focused on how it applies to technology -- often software. However, one area where people always like to insist we're completely wrong about patents often causing more problems than they solve is in the pharmaceutical field. With the cost of pharmaceutical research so high, the claim is, no new drugs would ever get made without strong patent protection. Of course, it turns out that patents are being abused badly in the pharmaceutical/medical field as well -- often in much the same way as technology patents. Slashdot points to this fascinating article in Fortune that shows how federally funded, University owned patents have been used to stifle innovation repeatedly, driving up costs significantly. And, the unintended consequences go much further. Because of the lucrative nature of these kinds of patents, researchers no longer share information with each other. As the article makes clear, plenty of medical research breakthroughs came about as people built on the ideas of others. However, now, many researchers (and the universities that employ them) are staying as quiet as possible until patents are filed -- thus slowing down the collaboration needed for real innovation. In fact, the article looks at the biotech field that was supposedly created by the change in patent law that made it easier for universities to license their patents and found plenty of evidence that rather than create a booming industry, the system has actually harmed real innovation, slowed drug discovery for certain diseases and (of course) driven up prices for everyone.
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