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| DO PATENTS help or hinder innovation?
| Instinctively, they would seem a blessing,
| especially for backroom tinkerers.
| Patenting an idea gives its inventor a 20-
| year monopoly to exploit the fruit of his
| labour in the marketplace, in exchange for
| publishing a full account of how the new
| product, process or material works for all
| and sundry to see. For the inventor, that
| may be a reasonable trade-off. For society,
| however, the loss of competition through
| the granting sole rights to an individual
| or organisation is justified only if it
| stimulates the economy and delivers goods
| that change peopleâs lives for the better.
| If truth be told, few inventions are really
| worth patenting. Time and again, surveys
| show that in both America and Europe
| companies rate superior sales and service,
| lead time and secrecy as far more important
| than patents when it comes to profiting
| from innovation. And, although applying for
| patents is relatively cheap, the cost of
| maintaining them can be horrendous. If the
| idea behind a patent has any commercial
| merit, it will attract imitatorsâand the
| inventor must be prepared to defend it in
| the courts. In a majority of cases, the
| cost of litigation will far exceed any
| revenue the inventor may subsequently earn
| from royalties or licensing.
| By and large, the inventions and
| discoveries worth patenting are those in
| the pharmaceutical and biotech fields,
| where the pay-off for blockbuster drugs can
| amount to billions of dollars a year. Also,
| because the vast majority of inventions in
| such areas depend on unique molecular
| architectures, patents for new products are
| easier to defend in the courts. A me-too
| drug that is believed to violate a firmâs
| patent is either based on the same molecule
| or not.
| An end to frivolous patents for business
| processes will be a blessing to online
| commerce. Meanwhile, the loss of patent
| protection for software could make
| programmers realise at last that they have
| more in common with authors, artists,
| publishers and musicians than they ever had
| with molecular architects and chip
| designers. In short, they produce
| expressions of ideas that are eminently
| That could be good news for innovation.
| After all, who in his right mind would seek
| a lousy old patent offering a mere 20 years
| of protection when copyright can provide
| monopoly rights for up to 70 years after
| the authorâs death? That one fact alone
| could spur more innovation than all the
| tinkering attempted so far.
2009 patent litigation study
WIPO Patent Committee Prepares To Discuss Future Work Programme
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| This week the Free Software Foundation of
| Europe is proposing the committee consider
| using a three-step test on whether a
| particular type of knowledge should become
| patentable subject matter or not.
| These three steps take the form of questions:
| â1, is there a demonstrated failure of the
| market to provide innovation in this area?;
| 2, are there demonstrated positive effects of
| disclosure from patenting in this area?; 3,
| in this area, does the patent system work
| effectively to disseminate knowledge?â
| âPatents are a form of regulation, and
| constitute state intervention in the market,â
| said Karsten Gerloff, president of the FSFE.
| And, he added, âas with any regulation and
| intervention, the first consideration must be
| to do no harm.â These questions should help
| ensure that patents aid the cause of
| innovation, he added.
FSFEâs opening statement at WIPO SCP/14
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| This week, the WIPO Standing Committee on
| the Law of Patents is meeting in Geneva.
| From FSFEâs perspective, the two most
| important points on the agenda are the
| relation between standards and patents, and
| limitations to patentability.
| Weâll go into details in the coming days.
| On patents and standards, one obvious point
| is that Free Software runs into all sorts
| of problems when implementing standards
| that include patented technology - just
| think of MP3.
| The discussion about limitations to what
| can be patented is clearly very important
| for Free Software. Here, the delegates at
| WIPO will discuss, among other things,
| whether there should be international rules
| regarding patents on software.
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