Patents For University Research No Help In Increasing University Research

from the so-much-for-that-theory dept

If you've read David Levine and Michele Boldrin's excellent book Against Intellectual Monopoly (there's a new version available), you'll see study after study after study showing the same thing: despite the idea that patents are supposed to encourage more research, there's simply no data that stronger patent protections increases the rate of research. In fact, if anything, the evidence suggests the opposite: that stronger patent laws allow researchers to rest on their laurels and use monopoly control to slow down any additional research. Much of this research is available in chapter 8 of their book.

Based on that, it should come as little surprise to see a new study coming out, suggesting that the infamous Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, that tweaked patent law to push universities to patent their research, did not actually cause greater research in the academic space. This is important, because many patent supporters point to the Bayh-Dole Act as being a key point in increasing the commercialization of research coming out of universities, thanks to the various patents. That now appears to be untrue. In the blog post linked above that discusses this, Institute for the Future blogger Anthony Townsend notes at the end "To their [Bayh and Dole's] credit, at least they didn't make things worse." Unfortunately, that's not true. They made things a lot worse. As we noted over two years ago, the Bayh-Dole Act has resulted in universities actively stifling research, using the monopoly powers granted to them under patents to prevent important basic research, driving up costs and slowing down innovation. Researchers are now less likely to share information, which has always been an important part in moving important research forward and figuring out how to build on each other's research for practical applications.

So, despite the common claims by some that Bayh-Dole's tweaks to the patent system helped drive better commercialization of basic research from universities into the market, we now have more evidence that it's done the exact opposite. It didn't increase the amount of research being done at the university level, and rather than encouraging greater innovation, the monopolies granted have helped to stifle innovative research, decrease information sharing and generally drive up the price of research and the commercial applications of that research. That's exactly the opposite of what the patent system was intended to do.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Pseudonym, Jan 16th, 2008 @ 10:22pm

    Of course

    I work in a patent-happy (non-software, by the way; we do old-fashioned stuff-you-can-kick invention, or at least you would be able to kick it if it wasn't so small) research group, and I could have told you that.

    Patents don't encourage more research. It encourages a certain kind of research, but more importantly, it's a form of delayed research grant. It raises money for the next round of research which, in the modern university, is otherwise in short supply.

    Patents are a symptom of an underlying money supply problem. It's the money supply, not the patents, which cause the stifled research.

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 1:57am

      Re: Of course

      Patents are a symptom of an underlying money supply problem.

      Maybe it's the other way around and the money supply problem is actually a symptom of patents. With patents protecting prior research there is little fear that a competing university will pick up where another one left off. Therefore, there is less pressure to fund future research in a timely manner. After all, with patents protecting previous research, new research dependent upon that previous research won't be going anywhere else anytime soon (20 years).

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 5:42am

    Re: Of course by Anonymous Coward

    It seems to me most posts on this website are against patents. I believe its because those posters lack the intelligence or creativity to come up with new ideas themselves and therefore want to profit on other's new ideas.

    I don't work in software, so I can't speak to that industry, but in my line of work patents are few and far between - the industry changes slowly and frankly most new ideas are obvious progressions of the technology. However, every once in a while someone comes up with a NEW idea - those people should be rewarded for that new idea (at least for a short time period) by allowing their product to have the technological advantage over others (who will eventually come up with a similar way to accomplish what the patented process does without infringing on the patent).

     

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    •  
      identicon
      IP Daily, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 6:25am

      Re: Re: Of course by Anonymous Coward

      AC said: "It seems to me most posts on this website are against patents. I believe its because those posters lack the intelligence or creativity to come up with new ideas themselves and therefore want to profit on other's new ideas."

      What?
      Are you calling me a patent troll? Them is fightin words.

       

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    •  
      identicon
      angry dude, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 6:54am

      Re: Re: Of course by Anonymous Coward

      "Mike has a bachelor's degree in Industrial and Labor Relations and an MBA -- both from Cornell University"

      Heck, what do you expect from this dude ?

      He is as far away from real R&D as anybody can be..

      A friend of mine got his MBA from Cornell (just to get a job at Goldman Sachs back in the late 90s)

      I can tell you his honest opinion about MBA "education" and MBA types over there...
      (Mike won't like it at all)

      Well, maybe some other time...
      Got work to do right now

       

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 4:41pm

      Re: Re: Of course by Anonymous Coward

      It seems to me most posts on this website are against patents.

      You need to read some more. There are posts both for and against patents here. Although some of the pro-patent posters are pretty wacky.

      I believe its because those posters lack the intelligence or creativity to come up with new ideas themselves and therefore want to profit on other's new ideas.

      That sounds like it must be a religious belief then because it isn't supported by objective reasoning. I'm an engineer (so it's not like I'm not involved with this stuff) and I think the patent system is a farce. So there.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 5:54am

    I am a PhD student at a university. Patents are annoying. We often just repeat work from ground-up because it is usually almost impossible to use software developed by other universities/national labs. Re-doing the work is time consuming and results in less developed research.

     

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    •  
      identicon
      angry dude, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 6:33am

      Re:

      "I am a PhD student at a university. Patents are annoying... because it is usually almost impossible to use software developed by other universities/national labs"

      Dude, what the heck do you mean ?

      I was a Ph.D. student myself and patents were the last thing I worried about...
      Unless you plan to commercialize your Ph.D. research and make LOTS of money just go about your business and forget about patents
      Nobody will sue you for using some patented piece for your Ph.D. research
      Patents are all about money, dude.
      If you are not making any money on the back of some patent holder you will not be sued for patent infringement. Period.

       

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      •  
        identicon
        Dan, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 8:07am

        Re: Re:

        "I was a Ph.D. student myself and patents were the last thing I worried about...
        Unless you plan to commercialize your Ph.D. research and make LOTS of money just go about your business and forget about patents
        Nobody will sue you for using some patented piece for your Ph.D. research
        Patents are all about money, dude."

        In other words, as long as you belong to angry dude's beloved "little guys" group, breaking patent law is perfectly fine, because the chances of being caught are minimal. Plus, there's a chance that some of the patents being infringed belong to the hated "big guys" group.

        But if you actually start making money and move out of that group into the "big guys" group, you automatically become "evil".

        Isn't illogical rationalization of patent infringement fun?

         

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        •  
          identicon
          angry dude, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 9:47am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Idiot,

          Everybody (except maybe you) makes some money here and there..
          But when you try to make money based on unlicenced use of someone else's patented technology you can expect to be sued sooner or later

          Has nothing to do with big guys vs. little guys
          Plus, big guys I was talking about are not exactly mom-and-pop workshops - they are huge multinational corporations run by mostly sleazy and crooked CEOs and their greedy lawyer-pals...

          Plz, do us all a favor and become a professional organ donor

           

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          •  
            identicon
            Dan, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 10:18am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You are advocating a double standard for patent infringement. Encouraging small timers to ignore the law, while cheering on the "small guys" that sue large companies over patent infringement, regardless of the validity of their claim. Just seems to be an incredibly hypocritical stance for you to be taking.

            "Plz, do us all a favor and become a professional organ donor"

            You have continually denied or ignored requests by posters on this blog to provide evidence for your arguments, and continue to make sophomoric insults despite being a supposed PhD recipient. One would think that someone claiming your level of education would do a better job of representing themselves.

             

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      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 9:07am

        Re: Re:

        "I was a Ph.D. student myself and patents were the last thing I worried about...
        Unless you plan to commercialize your Ph.D. research and make LOTS of money just go about your business and forget about patents
        Nobody will sue you for using some patented piece for your Ph.D. research
        Patents are all about money, dude.
        If you are not making any money on the back of some patent holder you will not be sued for patent infringement. Period."


        Okay. Here's the problem with your plan:

        I don't have access to their software; in fact, no one does but them. It being commercially available, they do not want to give it out for free. They usually don't want to cooperate in the name of research, mankind, etc.

        So, I can't just "go about my business". Furthermore, even if the software was available (e.g. via bittorrent), there is no way I would ever publish any piece of my research with a copy from an illegitmate source.

         

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        •  
          identicon
          angry dude, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 9:21am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Dude,

          you seem mentally deficient to me.
          Are you sure you need a Ph.D ?

          How is this a patent-related problem if you just can't get some commercial software for free. That's what you want, right ?
          Try open-source folks
          Hey, RMS, guy wants some commercial soft for free (as in beer) !
          Just give it to him !

          Otherwise just shut up
          You problem has nothing to do with patents
          Try to blame copyrights, trade secrets or capitalism in general...

           

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          •  
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 10:26am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            If you can find open source codes that do 3D radiation transport, please, let me know.

            Universities that don't have their software packages patented are willing to give me their codes, with certain conditions, etc. Those that do will almost never release it for free. That's all I'm saying.

             

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            •  
              identicon
              angry dude, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 10:37am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              I used to write my own code for 3D fluid transport when I did my Ph.D.
              Do you own homework punk if you want to *earn* your Ph.D.

              "Universities that don't have their software packages patented are willing to give me their codes, with certain conditions, etc. Those that do will almost never release it for free."

              Hah ?
              And why is that ?
              Because patents are evil or because researchers put a lot of thought and ingenuity into some software and then decided to patent some of it's essential functionality
              (BTW software code itself is copyrighted, not patented) to prevent copycats like you from making a quick buck (or a faked Ph.D.) on their backs ?

              Evil evil patent holders...

               

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              •  
                identicon
                Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 11:39am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Punk,

                I can write a deterministic and monte carlo 3D radiation transport code, and I have. Any graduate student in nuclear engineering can write their own transport code. Just goto http://www-rsicc.ornl.gov/ and count how many transport codes there are just from the national labs. I have written four of my own, so you can imagine how many more are out there.

                The codes I use are much more advanced, because my research requires it. If you knew anything about the complexity or man-hours that go into these other software packages that I use (which you imply to be knowledgable in any kind of transport code), you would know that me "doing my homework" would not be possible in anyone single person's lifetime.

                Please don't make assumptions about things you know absolutely nothing about.

                 

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                •  
                  identicon
                  angry dude, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 12:13pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Hey, easy, fella...

                  When I did my Ph.D. almost 10 years ago there were already some huge software packages for CFD like Fluent
                  I can only imagine what they are by now - probably a shitload of code owned by some commercial entity and costing your life's savings...

                  Well, I chose from the very beginning to focus on the very essence and to write my own code from scratch
                  This way you can actually learn something, like how to program a finite element model -a tricky piece of shit,
                  as opposed to knowing all the twicks and command-line switches of a commercial-grade model
                  Other people used COTS software packages for their Ph.D.s
                  Fine with me, as long as you *earn* you Ph.D.

                  Just one piece of advice: before you graduate with your Ph.D. make sure you have some job offers already lined up...
                  I graduated a little too fast...
                  But then I had an opportunity to break into IT and make some bucks
                  You don't have this kind of opportinuty in today's job market

                  Kind regards

                   

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 3:04pm

    Forget about patents, researchers won't share information because they don't want someone else to publish before them. Patents are not the end all to be all.

     

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