We've discussed in the past how Noble Prize winning economists
have been worried about the impact of intellectual property laws, and how at least one Nobel Prize winning physicist
is warning that strict intellectual property laws are harming science and innovation. Now we can add a Nobel Prize winning biologist to the list (his Nobel was for medicine). Sir John Sulston has written up a column for The Guardian explaining how intellectual property is "shackling" science
The myth is that IP rights are as important as our rights in castles, cars and corn oil. IP is supposedly intended to encourage inventors and the investment needed to bring their products to the clinic and marketplace. In reality, patents often suppress invention rather than promote it: drugs are "evergreened" when patents are on the verge of running out -- companies buy up the patents of potential rivals in order to prevent them being turned into products. Moreover, the prices charged, especially for pharmaceuticals, are often grossly in excess of those required to cover costs and make reasonable profits.
He goes on to attack the massive growth in things like gene patents, which has resulted in: "research on certain genes [being] largely restricted to the companies that hold the patents, and tests involving them are marketed at prohibitive prices. We believe that this poses a very real danger to the development of science for the public good." He points to the long history of how scientific advance has come from collaboration and the sharing
of knowledge, rather than the hoarding of it, and fears where things are heading now that knowledge is so often locked up:
For science to continue to flourish, it is necessary that the knowledge it generates be made freely and widely available. IP rights have the tendency to stifle access to knowledge and the free exchange of ideas that is essential to science. So, far from stimulating innovation and the dissemination of the benefits of science, IP all too often hampers scientific progress and restricts access to its products.
We keep hearing more and more people who recognize all of this speaking out against what is happening. But the politicians only seem to listen to the lawyers and the lobbyists who have every incentive to ignore the reality around them. How do we change that?