Scientists Feel That Patents Cause Significant Harm To Research

from the anyone-other-than-lawyers-and-monopolists-like-these-things? dept

In the last few years, as more and more problems with the patent system have come out, we've seen some defenders of the patent system try to categorize and compartmentalize the problems. They'll say things like "well, maybe patents cause some problems with software" but they're important elsewhere. The problem is that in pretty much every area they claim patents "work" for, the actual evidence suggests otherwise. For example, there's been a belief among many that patents are hugely important to scientists. A few years back, we saw that this wasn't necessarily true, with many scientists complaining about the damage done by patents -- especially when it came to collaborating and sharing ideas -- a key and important element of creating useful and compelling research.

Michael Geist points us to a recent survey of scientists who say that IP protection has a negative impact on their research. It's greatly slowed down the ability to do research, as universities (thanks to the dreadful and damaging Bayh-Dole Act -- which has significantly hurt progress in scientific research) are trying to hoard anything that can be patented for the sake of profit, rather than scientific advancement. Of course, advancement doesn't work that way. It works through collaboration and sharing ideas -- and what patents do is add a huge bureaucracy to the process, encouraging secrecy, not sharing and hoarding, not collaboration. Once again, we're seeing that about the only folks who really truly benefit from patents are the lawyers.

Filed Under: bayh-dole, patents, scientists

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  1. icon
    Mike (profile), 28 Jan 2009 @ 10:51am

    Re: Re: Re:

    As an advocate of small business I know that small businesses love patents because they protect expensive research from well funded larger competition (who has not spent time doing research).

    This is the big question that lots of people ask, but I think that it's not nearly as big a problem as people think -- and if you look at historical examples of nations with no or weak patent protection you see that it's not very much of a problem.

    There are a few reasons why:

    1. Innovation is not a once-and-done thing. It's an ongoing process. So if the small company really has a great breakthrough, then it should be ahead of the game even if the larger company comes along and copies its research. By the time they've copied the product, the smaller company should already be on to version 2.0 and be seen as a leader in the field.
    2. The first company often has a big first-mover advantage.
    3. The smaller company is likely to be more nimble and flexible in terms of better dealing with customer demand.
    4. Big companies are notoriously slow and legacy issues get in the way all the time. Microsoft outran IBM. Google outran Microsoft. Netflix outran Blockbuster. The idea that all a big company needs to do is throw money at the issue is pretty obviously false.

    So I wouldn't worry so much about protectionism, and focus more on innovating and serving the market better.

    Is there a reasonable solution that saves academia without punishing start-up investments? Otherwise to remove patents would mean that all research would have to be done by Universities and developed/produced by established businesses; definitely not a viable solution.

    I don't see how this conclusion naturally follows. You can easily still commercialize university research at a startup without patents.

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