21 July 2007

Your Money or Your Life

Remember patents? They're those things that are supposed to promote innovation. Take surgeons, for example: they would never invent new ways of saving lives without some kind of financial incentive to do so - I mean, why should they?

So it's only logical that patent lawyers should be encouraging surgeons to patent anything that might save lives:

"What it does is it provides something for other companies to work around. The patent is out there. It's wide open. The whole world looks at it and thinks, 'How do I get around it?' That inspires more creativity and more development," Raciti said.

Well, that's logical: let's put obstacles in the way of people trying to save lives - it's more of a challenge.

The medical community is weary. "It's not clear that providing a monopoly over a certain process promotes innovation in the field of patient care delivery," said Aaron Kesselheim, a patent attorney and doctor who conducts health policy research at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"The legal concern is that physicians won't do something because they're concerned that somebody will sue them, and if that affects the care that they are trying to provide to the patients, then that's a negative," he said.

Sometimes you get the impression that patent lawyers really want to hated. (Via TechDirt.)


Anonymous said...

I agree that software patents have a lot of problems, but patents are still useful in some cases.

A simple case I can think of is the pharmaceutical industry. I heard that developing a new drug can cost ~900 million USD.
I do not think many companies would invest this kind of money without the promise of having a patent for several years.

So in this case, but for a different reason, the patent system does encourage innovation.

Glyn Moody said...

Well, that's certainly the case that is mentioned in these circumstances. I don't claim to know this field as well as that of software, but my impression is that it doesn't really encourage innovation: if you look at the drugs that are produced, they tend to be copy-cat drugs aiming to solve the diseases of the affluent West. There is no innovation in coming up with cures for the killers of developing countries.

A very good intro to all this can be found in the (free online) book Against Intellectual Monopolies (it's a PDF, I'm afraid.)

Christopher Hire said...


Interesting posts on innovation and medicine.

IP balance is going to be critical according to 2thinknow research.

I've been looking at the broader context of innovation models at (http://www.2thinknow.com/innovation/ ). Also IP protection and am at a WordCamp 2007 presentation listening to them talk about the same topic!

There's also some resources I've been compiling on innovation and patents lately so others can share emerging ideas as we do some research.

Great work Glyn!

Christopher Hire

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for the links.

I think you're right about the coming focus on what I prefer to call intellectual monopolies (am I beginning to turn into Richard Stallman, I wonder?), since, as you know, they are government-granted monopolies, and not property in any meaningful sense.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that many of the arguments we are mired in today (hello RIAA, hello software patents) are caused by using the wrong words in this context, which leads to dubious logic (to say nothing of hand-waving and/or sloganeering).

We shall see.