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
    Richard (profile), 6 Feb 2010 @ 6:43am

    Abuse of patents has set Biotech back

    Remember that, although GM crops are widely grown in the US, in Europe they have not got beyond the "trials" stage and there is widespread consumer resistance to imported food that contains GM. Most major supermarkets avoid using it in their own brand products and labelling rules are strict.

    Now the consumer resistance is mostly caused by (in my opinion) unfounded health scares BUT the technically well educated part of the population don't speak out in favour of GM (as we do in relation to other groundless health scares like the MMR vaccine). The reason for this is the abuse of patents by the biotech companies (esp. Monsanto).

    The well know (in the UK) food critic Jay Rayner made this point on the BBC's "One Show" (a mass audience early evening program) just last night.

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