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. identicon
    Progress Interrupted, 6 Feb 2010 @ 8:17am

    Re: Abuse of patents has set Biotech back

    "... in Europe ... Most major supermarkets avoid using it in their own brand products and labelling rules are strict."

    - Europe has strict labeling rules? Good for them.
    The US has no such GM requirement. What you buy may have GM in it and the consumer has no way of knowing

    "Now the consumer resistance is mostly caused by (in my opinion) unfounded health scares"

    - Care to elaborate ? For example, why are the concerns of educated professionals in the field of genetics and biotech considered by you to be unfounded? Extra points for refuting published studies showing the potential harm.

    "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)."

    - I would guess they do not speak out in favor because they do not favor GM. Why do you equate genetically modified food to measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. These are two completely different issues.

    "abuse of patents by the biotech companies (esp. Monsanto).
    "
    - Yes, Monsanto is evil for many reasons.

    - I'm sure that if the well known UK food critic Jay Rayner says so then it must be true. /s

    One last item. If GM ingredients in our food supply are no big deal, then why not include this information in the labeling which up until now has provided a useful list for consumer reference. Prior attempts to address this question include things similar to "if there is no problem with GM them why bother listing it". This is a non answer and is rather insulting to the consumer.

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