How Patents Harm Biotech Innovation

from the scaring-people-off dept

Patent defenders often claim that patents are necessary because top venture capitalists would never invest without patents. And yet, we keep pointing to examples of some of the best venture capitalists in the business who are quite skeptical of patents. For the most part, those have been limited to software patents, but Brad Feld seems to have jumped the hurdle to recognizing it's not just software patents that are the problem, and is digging into the research on how much patents have held back innovation in lots of other fields as well (Brad: if you want a list of more such research, let us know...). He's written up a post about some upcoming research concerning patents in the biotech field, where he explains how patents are hindering innovation in that field as well by scaring off research into certain areas:
Regularly, patent advocates tell me how important patents are for the biotech and life science industries. However, there apparently is academic research in the works that shows that patents actually slow down innovation in biotech. The specific example we discussed was that there is increasing evidence that when a professor or company gets a patent in the field of genetics research, other researchers simply stop doing work in that specific area. As a result, the number of researchers on a particular topic decreases, especially if the patent is broad. It's not hard to theorize that this results in less innovation around this area over time.
I can't wait to see the final results of that study, as it would fit in well with a few other studies that have found similar results.

Filed Under: biotech, brad feld, innovation, patents, vcs

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  1. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 8 Feb 2010 @ 9:52pm

    Re: Figure it out

    Let me put it this way, would you invest all your savings and years of your life to build a house you could not own? That is precisely what invetors would be doing with their inventions without patent protection. Figure it out. Gawd!

    Odd. I'm not sure why you make these claims when I have responded to them in the past -- though, oddly, you never seem to back up your points with any actual evidence.

    Unfortunately for you, there is tremendous evidence that shows your wrong. A recent study which I'll be writing about shortly actually showed how most inventions take place due to a company needing the solution themselves -- thus, not for the sake of selling it directly to profit, though that often comes later.

    Separately, there is a basic profit motive for inventing: to sell a useful product.

    You seem to be suggesting that the only product is the invention, but that's incorrect. And, again, there is significant proof that you are wrong, found in various studies of societies without patents or with much weaker patent laws, and comparing them to similar places or times, and there is no evidence that patents increase the incentive to innovate. In fact, there is some evidence that more inventing/innovation gets done without patents, because then you have to *keep* innovating to stay ahead of any copycats.

    And the fact is that you do own anything you create -- but that doesn't mean you should be able to stop the guy down the street from building his own house. Yet that's what patents do.

    Why do I figure you will not respond to this? You don't deal well with people who have the facts at their hands, do you, Steve-o?

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