Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Featured Do patents inhibit development in the technology?

  1. Feb 28, 2017 #1
    I know I'm opening weird topics but related to my last topic it came to my mind.

    What do I mean by inhibit, you know taking patent or taking permission to use its license takes some time and money and if we think in large scale, today, almost every company spends lots of time to protect their tech.

    My point is maybe all these things slows the improvement in technology. I think if everything were free to use things would get faster in terms of tech. Some of you can say no! patents enforce people to be productive and creative to design something, yeah thats also true.

    What do you think?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 28, 2017 #2

    berkeman

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Two points for me to add here...

    -1- I get paid to work hard on technical innovation. A big part of my paycheck comes from patents I've filed though my employer that earns them money that they pass on to me. Without a well-enforced patent system, parasites would bypass the money investment in R&D and just use our work to build new products that they don't have the resources to invent.

    -2- Without the reward (protection of profits from derived from new inventions), there is little motivation to invest in innovation . Do you have any idea what it takes to come up with innovative solutions to important technical problems? Or are you too busy downloading illegal copyrighted copies of other people's work to bother thinking about that?
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2017
  4. Feb 28, 2017 #3

    OmCheeto

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    IMHO, yes.
    It is my understanding that a US patent will cost around $10,000, and an international patent will cost around $100,000.
    These are mostly lawyer fees.
    If someone doesn't have that kind of cash sitting around, then their idea will remain idle, until they can scrape it together.
    Of course, this assumes the patentable device is worth at least those amounts.
     
  5. Feb 28, 2017 #4

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    This is nit picky but we do not allow things like "sth". What on earth is that? Please use correct English as per the rules.

    Thank you.

    Patents protect people that spent time and effort creating something so that they and/or their company can benefit from it without it being stolen from lazy people that just lurk trying to find ideas to steal.
     
  6. Mar 1, 2017 #5

    Borek

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    This works both ways.

    On one side - as the earlier posts say, patents (should) guarantee that your inventions won't be stolen from you. Good in general.

    On the other hand, as everything involving lawyers, patent system is used to fight the competition in rather nasty ways (think patent wars). Bad.

    On the even other hand, sometimes the patent system slows down the technology development. I can't find it now and my memory is shaky on what I read, but I recall a story about some kind of device (was it some kind of a steam engine?) being patented in US as a mean for powering agricultural machine - and as the machine producer was not interested in making anything else he in fact blocked the development of every other application. Sometimes things are getting patented just to block others and be never used. I had a friend who invented electrochemical method of producing some kind of a semiconductor while working for a large US company. His invention was patented and put on the shelf, as the company had already invested in other production method and they were not interested in using his invention, but they also didn't won't anybody else to use it. I suppose those from the patent industry would be able to list many similar stories. Bad as well.
     
  7. Mar 1, 2017 #6
    I think protection of intellectual rights is important.

    However, the actual solutions (patent, copyright) are just not up to the task anymore: in this new environment they are so open to abuse that it's easy to miss their good sides. Especially if you are at the bottom of the (legal) food chain.

    It would be very timely to adapt the patent and copyright system to the new technologies, speed of development, disparity of (legal & monetary) resources and so on.

    But: based on the DMCA (which counts as an adaptation attempt of copyright laws to the new tech), can anybody really believe that it'll be something better/more innovative than the actual system?
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2017
  8. Mar 1, 2017 #7

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    But is that really slowing the development of technology or just he commercialization of it. Indeed, I would think a company that employs that tactic would encourage its researchers to develop additional means of accomplishing the same task in order to block their use by others. It would also encourage competitors to develop additional additional means to accomplish the same task. Isn't that more research and innovation, not less?

    Lawyers' fees I'll buy though; like the airbags on your car, they are an expensive safety measure that make developing technology (buying a car) less affordable and don't do anything for you until you need the protection they afford.
     
  9. Mar 1, 2017 #8

    Borek

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I guess the final judgment depends on what we want - more (useless) knowledge, or more (useful) applications (and note I am not referring to making money from applications, but using the technology to make life easier/better/cheaper/safer/whatever).

    IMHO patent system is like democracy - intrinsically flawed, but we don't have anything better :wink:
     
  10. Mar 1, 2017 #9
    Patents accelerate the development of new technology. They protect your intellectual contributions and allow the creator to benefit from them. Patents also force the competition to devise alternative mechanisms to accomplish the same task done by the patented creation.

    Copying other people's technology/creations hurts the advancement of technology. Patents protect against that by incentivizing as well as protecting technological pioneers.
     
  11. Mar 1, 2017 #10

    JBA

    User Avatar

    The patent system was developed by Benjamin Franklin on the concept that there were many inventive individuals were afraid of exposing their technology for fear that it would be stolen from them, and he thought a patent system would encourage them to release these secreted ideas to the world.and be able to benefit from their exposure. Upon that philosophy, not having a patent system could equally stifle the application of new technologies and a technology, no matter how advanced or beneficial is of little use until it is applied.
     
  12. Mar 1, 2017 #11
    I can only comment on software patents. I don't know enough about other types.

    I agree with Richard Stallman and others who point out the problems with software patents. Software patents actually inhibit progress because of the nature of software. For software it's enough to have copyright protection. Fortunately, some recent court decisions have been encouraging when it comes to abolishing or at least mitigating software patents.

    https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/software-patents.en.html
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2017
  13. Mar 3, 2017 #12
    Well said. The "bad" parts of the patent system are a necessary evil of a free market as described by @berkeman above.
    Open-source is great, but usually isn't truly innovative.
     
  14. Mar 3, 2017 #13

    Bystander

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Big old "Bingo."
     
  15. Mar 3, 2017 #14
    I used to think the intent of patent law was disseminate new ideas and inventions widely, for broader economic and community benefit, whilst providing reasonable recompense to the originators via royalties. Rather it appears it is more a means to maintain monopoly rights and prevent instead of encourage use by others.

    I don't think we should see originators deprived of a right to royalties but I think the ability to prevent others using an invention should not be an inalienable right; I think there could be a case for it being constrained - especially so where there is a demonstrated need or harm prevention or broad community benefit involved. Perhaps a shorter "exclusive rights" period would be better, to be followed by a period when others are allowed use without specific permissions, but still have to pay (a scheduled minimum %) for it. Or negotiate permissions with lower royalties.

    A lot of inventions "fail" for other reasons than lack of potential - inadequate financing, poor management, bad luck - and use by others could see it better done, and still see monetary reward flow to the inventors. So, yes I think sometimes patent law does inhibit innovation.
     
  16. Mar 3, 2017 #15

    FactChecker

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2017 Award

    The marginal trade-offs between the protecting the profit motive versus spreading technology are murky at best. Unless a person has done an economic study, this OP question can not be answered in any scientific way. I doubt that such a study can be done accurately. Only the most extreme scenarios would have a clear answer and anything in between would be uncertain.
     
  17. Mar 3, 2017 #16

    Dale

    Staff: Mentor

    The time and cost of protecting technology is typically less than the cost of developing it in the first place. Most of the money spent on R&D is spent on personnel, so I don't think that it is a big concern.
     
  18. Mar 3, 2017 #17

    Andy Resnick

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    This was a huge topic in optical design in the 1990s and 2000s- 'submarine patents' and the like were considered a major problem preventing optimal development of technology. Considering how the field has actually progressed, I think history has demonstrated that those concerns were overstated.

    Even so, there's not-so-simple problems of patent protection in the international community: a US patent may or may not be protected in other countries.

    Patents do provide some protection, but the protection doesn't last very long.
     
  19. Mar 4, 2017 #18

    FactChecker

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2017 Award

    In the pharmaceutical industry, there are many examples of collusion to extend patent rights. There are many examples where other businesses are bribed not to produce a generic replacement. Another trick is that before a patent expires, a minor change will be made to the medicine and prescriptions will be switched over to the new product, taking the old one off the market. That starts the 20 year "patent clock" all over again.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  20. Mar 4, 2017 #19

    Jonathan Scott

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I'm a software developer, and I think that software patents were always quite problematic and are definitely harmful now.

    In the 1980s I wrote some Intel 8086 assembler code to interpret graphics data being sent to an emulated terminal, and I worked out how to draw an arc without using any multiply or divide instructions, just addition and subtraction. When I showed it to our local graphics expert he said I can't use that because it's been patented. (The patent has since expired). To me that's ridiculous; it was just a mathematical algorithm, and the patent rules said at the time that you can't patent software (although you can of course use copyright to protect it). It was also the obvious solution to a specific problem.

    I'd say that many software-related patents are also just algorithms, but the rules have been bent to the point where they are broken. A typical workaround used to be to say that a software-related patent could be implemented in hardware, which made it patentable, but it seems people no longer even bother with that.

    I joined IBM in 1987 and have come up with five different software-related inventions for them, all of which have been patented (some of them in multiple geographies). The way it used to work is that we reviewed inventions internally quite strictly at a department level, to avoid the wasted effort of having it reviewed by our internal IP department, then the IP department reviewed them, then we submitted them and patent examiners checked them, and eventually we might get a patent. I was a reviewer myself and frequently rejected invention submissions because I found prior art using the same idea, sometimes going back to the 1960s.

    The way it works now seems to have hardly any checks; each stage passes most stuff through to the next without checking very much. Some Australian managed to patent the wheel not long ago! The only check now seems to be that if some other company challenges the issued patent, then at that point the IP lawyers really begin looking into it.

    Personally, I'd say that the first three of my five patents (two invented by myself alone, and one by another team using a key step invented by myself) definitely contained novel and non-obvious elements and qualified under the generally accepted rules at the time (although I still think that patenting software is dodgy), and the fact that they were all successfully patented was a significant achievement (as most inventions at the time were rejected internally or by the patent examiner). However, the last two (both submitted by other members of my team) were pretty obvious as the best logical solution to a particular requirement, yet they still got through.

    Companies such as IBM now generally have a policy of submitting patents even for weak ideas simply in order to protect themselves against someone else getting a patent for it, regardless of how non-obvious it seems to experienced software engineers. However, in many cases it's enough just to make sure that the idea is already known (or that IBM already holds a patent covering it).

    IBM and many other companies simply do cross-licensing deals for many of their patents, so in many ways they are enabling each other to share the benefits. However, this works against small companies and individuals who don't have anything to swap.

    [Edited to correct typos]
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2017
  21. Mar 4, 2017 #20
    I believe knowledge should be free. How can we progress if innovation is slowed by a wall of paper?
     
  22. Mar 4, 2017 #21
    Me too...
    Who will innovate if you can't make a living or even recover your investment doing it?
     
  23. Mar 4, 2017 #22
    Got me there. in a perfect world advancement wouldn't be a by-product of the quest for money. Advancement should be rewarded,yes, but it should be reward enough in itself.
     
  24. Mar 4, 2017 #23

    Jonathan Scott

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I do agree that intellectual property invested in the creation of a new product or service should be protected against copying by people who can avoid having to make the same investment, in the same way for example as copyright in music and films. The idea behind patents is part of that very reasonable concept; it means that a person or company making the extra effort to innovate can claim some temporary exclusive rights as part of their reward. However, the "design patent" concept (the "look and feel") seems more difficult to justify, especially when Apple managed to use one for a while to assert exclusive rights to make phones which are rectangular with rounded corners!

    The problem is getting the balance right. I wrote and sold some PC software in the 1980s which could easily have been copied without payment, but the users respected the copyright rules. However, as someone who runs a couple of amateur orchestras, I'm frequently frustrated by the fact that it costs a ridiculous amount to hire orchestral parts for music by a composer who died up to 69 years ago because the publisher still has exclusive control through copyright until 70 years have elapsed. That seems seriously excessive.

    As for scientific knowledge, that should certainly be easily available, but someone needs to pay for the resources and effort that went into researching it and publishing it, and it is difficult to draw a line between research with a "scientific" value and a "commercial" value. The whole idea of the original patent system was to keep research open, making the knowledge available but giving the owner some exclusive rights over how it could be used. I can't see how to extend this idea to scientific research, but there are some parallels in the way that new articles are expected to include references crediting previous work in the same area.
     
  25. Mar 4, 2017 #24

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    So where do you draw the line? John Adams? (living) Eliot Carter? (5 years) Aaron Copland? (27 years), Paul Hindemith? (53 years) Arnold Schoenberg? (66 years)
     
  26. Mar 4, 2017 #25

    Jonathan Scott

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Publishers have copyright in a printed edition lasting 25 years from first publication. That's more than the usual lifetime of a patent (which in the UK can be renewed for up to 20 years).

    The idea of the 70 years is apparently based on allowing the next generation of the composer's descendants to profit from his or her work. I could go along with that if that's who benefited from the hire fees, but that must be a very rare case. I would also be less concerned if the hire costs were not so high; paying 400 UK pounds to borrow a few sheets of paper for a few weeks to perform an amateur concert is disproportionately expensive (we'd have to sell about 30 more tickets to cover the cost), and to be allowed to perform in public we have to pay PRS fees (royalties) on top of that, although they are typically much less than the hire costs. I can understand that if an orchestra wants to make a commercial recording then it should pay a reasonable amount for the rights to do so, but that doesn't apply in this case.

    And compositions, like patents, can be "obvious". When I was five, just starting to learn the piano, I composed a little waltz tune. Many years later, I discovered while living in Sweden that it was the same tune as "Flickan i Havanna" by Evert Taube, almost exactly note for now, except that my version was in 3/4 time.
     
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted