New Study Shows Patent Laws Spur Patents; Report's Authors Pretend This Means Innovation

from the they're-not-the-same dept

Slashdot points us to an article about a new research report, commissioned by a biotech trade group that argues the evidence shows that patents spur innovation, rather than hinder it. However, as some quickly noticed, the report has severe methodological flaws, starting with the fact that it seems to use patent activity as a proxy for innovation. So, it argues that stronger patent law creates more patents (or more funding of patents or more sales/licensing of patents) -- and then claims that clearly there's more innovation. But we already knew that patent laws spur patents. The question -- not answered in the report -- is about the actual impact on innovation.

Just as an example, the report provides some case studies from different countries. In one of them, it talks about how Taiwan basically took the US' Bayh-Dole Act, which encourages the locking up of university research... and shows there was much more patenting afterwards. The report discusses how "impressive" this is:
A 2010 study of the effects of this legislation on university patenting activity provides a concrete and detailed example of the positive effect the introduction of technology transfer mechanisms can have. The study examines patents granted to 174 Taiwanese universities during the period of 2004 to 2009 and compares this to the period preceding it. Strikingly, the study finds a sharp and sustained increase in university’s patenting activity: patenting increased from 446 patents in 2004 to 1,581 by 2009. This is an impressive increase of 354%. As importantly, apart from a slight drop in 2007, this growth has been progressive and sustained year after year.
Yup. So patent laws that expand the coverage of what's patentable and provide incentives for more patents... increase the number patents. What does that say about innovation? Abso-freaking-lutely nothing. And, in fact, if you look at the actual research on the impact of Bayh-Dole in the US, while it similarly increased patent activity, it didn't increase research, and actually held it back. This is because university research is meant to be shared and meant to be discussed and to have others work on it. That's how great research is done: with lots of sharing of information and ideas to spark new thinking. But the Bayh-Dole Act basically told researchers to shut up, keep things secret, and patent the results. Because of that there are a lot more patents, but a lot fewer real breakthroughs, because you no longer have the same information sharing, discussion and openness that created true innovation in the past.

Filed Under: bayh-dole act, licensing, patents, taiwan


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  1. icon
    Horsetooth (profile), 30 Jun 2012 @ 12:26pm

    Re: Commercial vs University sponsored innovation - mixing metaphors

    We probably all know that Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the US Constitution established patent and copyright …
    “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

    You have to at least ask “why?”.

    I think it is a fairly obvious deterrent to innovation if you must pour your genius, time, energy and money into innovation with no way to protect from someone else simply waltzing in and replicating it, offering you no recognition (e.g. licensing revenue) in return.

    Would you?

    Why, as you suggest, would any “research” be required to assert the above? And, if we had research on the topic, who would fund it, what answer would they be looking for and how would that influence the outcome? When responses ask for “proof” (that patents are a good measure of innovation) I think they are really trying to debate whether some alternative system might accelerate innovation or yield higher caliber results. That is a different question. As it stands, if I want to reap any reward from my innovation, I should protect it. I do this by filing a patent application. Thus (and I’m just using simple math here)… the number of patents is a good measure of the degree of innovation.

    There are plausible concerns regarding the state of the patent system. Non-practicing owners (trolls) create an imbalance overlooked by Constitution. Large concentrations of patents by some companies are viewed as impenetrable by the garage inventor. The ability of the USPTO to keep up with technology and the notion of quotas which may result in inferior teachings or unwarranted grants can become a real problem.

    It is always healthy to debate, progress, resolve and change. My critique was in response to the article which I (still) believe makes an inappropriate comparison, somewhat implies that public institutions are (or should be) more adept at innovation than individuals or commercial endeavors, glosses over the fact that patents are established in the Constitution to promote innovation, cross circuits the logic that Universities SHOULD share (but choose to patent) while companies are meant to COMPETE (so the patent system offers protection in exchange for teaching).

    Perhaps I need to re-read the article more carefully but unless I can understand how opinions expressed on the topic relate to the basic facts it is hard to acknowledge in any credible fashion.

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