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
    The Anti-Mike (profile), 6 Feb 2010 @ 11:33am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Most innovation in human history has been driven at least at first by curiosity - money usually comes along later - and my point is that the mechanisms we have devised (supposedly) to facilitate money making have an awkward habit of getting in the way.

    If you want to look far enough back, that is the case, but in modern times, that is no longer the case.

    Curiosity is nice, it is even a requirement to have the desire to go look for something, but without the tools to go looking (such as in bio) you might as well stay home. We are no longer in a situation where grand discoveries are made for a few dollars and pot of coffee. The bio stuff is eating untold millions of dollars a year.

    Essentially, mankind has picked all the the low hanging fruit from the discovery tree, and now you need better tools and a lot more effort to snatch the fruit higher up the tree.

    He turned them down because he didn't want to give up control.

    There are some people doing that, but most of them end up getting wiped out by other who develop around them and make their great idea moot.

    It isn't about the money for the inventors themselves, but because it is more and more expensive to do thing, it is about money for someone. They want to get some sort of return for their money, and a warm feeling about advancing mankind another inch isn't going to cut it.

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