How Patents Have Harmed University Research
from the a-travesty dept
As the article notes, the problem was in making the same mistake that many patent system supporters make, assuming that the invention stage is the most important part of innovation -- when it is not. Invention is just one part of the innovation process. Locking up the invention stage makes every other part of the process of innovation much more expensive, thereby limiting innovation -- and in fact, that's exactly what the Bayh-Dole Act has done:
Part of the problem has been a lingering misunderstanding about where the value lies in innovation. Patenting a new basic science technique, or platform technology, puts it out of the reach of graduate students who might have made tremendous progress using it.As for whether or not it's actually increased the amount of basic research, a study we wrote about earlier this year found that it had actually decreased basic research at universities. And, the story gets even worse, because it's not even as if this ability to patent university research has resulted in huge monetary windfalls for universities either. While some had hoped to hit the jackpot with patents, they failed to recognize just how costly it is to maintain patents and run a technology transfer office. A recent study found that the majority of tech transfer offices had lost money for their universities.
Similarly, exclusive licensing of a discovery to a single company thwarts that innovation’s use in any number of other fields. R. Stanley Williams, a nanotechnologist from Hewlett-Packard, testified to Congress in 2002 that much of the academic research to which H.P. has had difficulty gaining access could be licensed to several companies without eroding its intellectual property value.
About the only good news in the article is the fact that the steady stream of studies and complaints from within academia about this impact is gradually waking up some to how big a problem the Bayh-Dole Act was in stifling research and innovation in the US. Unfortunately, just getting basic patent reform moving is difficult enough. And since the pharma industry likes Bayh-Dole (since it allows them to sweep in and get all the value from discoveries made at universities -- see The $800 Million Pill to learn about how pharma and biotech companies have abused the system for years), you can bet that they'll put up a huge fight to repeal this incredibly harmful bit of legislation.