50 Years Of Scientific Discovery & Sharing In Antarctica May End Thanks To Patent Greed

from the patents-against-peace dept

For the past 50 years, 47 countries have been a part of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which was used to establish Antarctica as a peaceful science outpost where scientists from many nations could work together and share their discoveries. And it may now all be coming to an end. Why? Because (as Will Klein alerts us) all this discovery and sharing is going on mostly without patenting! This has greatly upset a bunch of companies who want to hoard any such discoveries and want to be able to patent "Antarctic organisms or molecules." Beyond the rather serious question of why either organisms or molecules can be patented, this is a microcosm of what's wrong with patents. Patents are supposed to be used to encourage research (promoting the progress, remember). And this treaty has done a great job promoting progress without patents. As the article notes, products already "derived from Antarctica include dietary supplements, anti-freeze proteins, anti-cancer drugs, enzymes and cosmetic creams." In other words, all of that happened mostly without patents. The only reason to break up this treaty, stop the sharing, and start allowing patents is to slow down the discovery, hoard the results and limit the progress to single companies who get a monopoly on that work.
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Filed Under: antartica, discovery, patents, science, sharing


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  1. identicon
    Lonnie E. Holder, 8 Feb 2009 @ 6:22pm

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

    Mike:

    As I have argued before, in the macroeconomic sense, there are very few monopolies. Every time I point this out, everyone over at AgainstMonopoly pulls out a microeconomic argument on me. Interesting that you have pulled out a macroeconomic argument instead.

    It really does not matter whether a company with a trade secret shares or does not share, does it, because they will do what they are going to do, regardless of whether they are "hurting" themselves or not. They do not think they are hurting themselves because they have knowledge that is in high demand and they have a customer base that values their knowledge. You will never convince them to give up their secrets unless you can prove to them convincingly that by giving up their knowledge they will ultimately gain.

    Now, you discussed "non-compete clauses." I never signed a "non-compete clause," but I did sign an agreement that I would never divulge any trade secret I learned from my former employers. Why would I? For the greater good? I am unconvinced that the "greater good" really exists. The "greater good" is selfish and self-serving. I am convinced that if a competitor of a company that holds a trade secret obtains that secret, then they will not divulge it either. In fact, that was the whole purpose of the patent system. Get knowledge into the open so that it can benefit more people.

    I am 100% convinced that if patents were limited, trade secrets would increase. If you believe Boldrin and Levine, they have essentially proven this will occur because according to them, secrecy is valued more than patents. So, if patents no longer exist, what will be the reaction of companies? They will have more secrets, and innovation in the market will slow even more. As you well know, this is how people think, and nothing that you say will ever change what they believe.

    I can't leave this without a comment on macro versus micro economics. If you believe that we should be concerned about macroeconomic effects, then patents are relatively unimportant because there is almost always an option that is not patented (there are a few exceptions, but in all but a few cases the exceptions are irrelevant). The market automatically considers the relative value of a patented product and determines whether the value is worth it. If it is, the market responds positively. If the patented product is not worth it, the market causes the product to fail, and ultimately the patent will be abandoned.

    On the other hand, if a patent is a microeconomic effect, then the release of knowledge is unimportant. I am unable to argue the microeconomic effect well because I believe that patents should be considered from a macroeconomic viewpoint only, where their importance generally fades. There are exceptions, of course, when the patent represents blocking of a path of technology. While such blocking has happened occasionally in history, it usually does not. Software and business methods patents have been trying to make themselves blocks, but courts are just as busily trying to undo that damamge. We will see.

    Mike, there is some merit to your viewpoint about expanding knowledge and markets, but you cannot change the instinctual behavior of people. People will always defer to being protective of their territory or their knowledge. If patents lead to that protection, that is what they will use. If patents are unavailable, then trade secrets will be used to the extent they can be.

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