Is It Really A Good Idea To Open A 'Mini' Patent Office Directly Within Cornell's NYC Tech Campus?

from the and-what-about-open-innovation? dept

I've been pretty excited about the fact that my alma mater, Cornell, won the competition last year to open a massive NYC-based tech campus -- with a key focus on actually spinning innovation out into the market. I'd been able to spend some time with the folks who put together Cornell's bid, and the plan is really, really ambitious in a good way for innovation in the region. However, I'm a bit troubled by the recent news -- announced with great fanfare -- that the Commerce Department is setting up its own "mini-patent office" directly on the campus. While various politicians celebrated the announcement, statements like the following one from Senator Chuck Schumer make me cringe:
“Creating a direct link between the patent office and inventors is a simple and virtually cost free way to reduce red tape, and help our best and brightest produce the next iPhone or microchip. When all is said and done, New York City will have the only college in the nation where you can get advice on patenting your latest invention between grabbing a sandwich at the dining hall and picking up your laundry, all without leaving campus.”
The problem, of course, is that this perpetuates the myth that patents correlate to actual innovation or bringing products to market. There is little to no evidence to support that -- but there's plenty of evidence to suggest that patents often get in the way of innovation. Embedding a patent office directly on the campus may skew the efforts there to focus on patents over alternatives. We've discussed how some businesses are focusing on open hardware and argue that avoiding patents is a better strategy. But somehow, I doubt the mini-Patent Office on the campus is going to talk about that when a student swings by.

The whole thing just reinforces the myth of how patents are a key part of innovation, when the research shows the exact opposite.

Cornell's President, David Skorton, claims that this will help "the dialogue":
“A key part of Cornell Tech's mission is to encourage innovation and economic development by helping to facilitate all aspects of university, industry, and government collaboration,” said Cornell President David J. Skorton. “This partnership with the Department of Commerce will not only bring a new resource to the campus and to New York's tech entrepreneurs, it will also help create a new dialogue about intellectual property in the information age to help improve the innovation process in the United States.”
But, how is that dialogue created when you have an embedded person with one viewpoint, but not competing viewpoints?

Even worse, the press release announcing all of this cites the silly study the Commerce Department put out that showed correlation between jobs and very loosely defined "IP-intensive industries" to support the argument that this mini-patent office will somehow create jobs. Of course, that report was laughable. Its definition of "IP intensive" was so broad, that the biggest impact IP had on jobs was... in grocery stores. Also, the key to its argument that patents are good was that Steve Jobs had patents and made some cool products, so patents are clearly a good thing. But even at its worst, the report made clear that it was taking no position on the policy questions and shouldn't be used for such purposes... Yet here it is, in this press release, as if it's gospel that more patents will mean more jobs:
According to a recent Commerce Department report, intellectual property-intensive industries supported 40 million jobs in 2010, and contributed $5.06 trillion to the U.S. economy. By providing IP protection and commercialization tools for entrepreneurs, this partnership will drive additional job growth and serve as a forum for exploring ways to balance the free flow of information with the protection of IP in a digital era.
It's a real shame that my own alma mater -- whose economics professors helped shape my understanding of why and how patents could be so dangerous -- seems to be perpetuating these kinds of myths.

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  1. icon
    RonKaminsky (profile), 8 Oct 2012 @ 12:31pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    There is no sudden, massive innovation out there.
    And there is in other fields? Please give us some examples of recent patents which revealed to society a "massive innovation" which was totally unknown previous to its publication.
    Basically, since almost anything can be ripped apart and copied fairly quickly, you have only the short lead time to market to capitalize on perhaps a huge investment.
    When I said that it isn't difficult to reverse engineer, I did not mean to imply that it is something which necessarily can be done effortlessly and in a very short time.
    Yet, I bet many of your solutions are based on things that were patent in the past.
    This is not at all important if anyway they would have become common knowledge even without the patent system.

    I can imagine that very specific industries, like the pharmaceutical industry, might require some kind of special regulations in order to enable extremely large R&D expenses to be covered by the profit generated by their discoveries.
    So I would say that you are 0 for 3.
    Interesting. You seem to be much better at congratulating yourself for winning arguments, than actually arguing.

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