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How do intelectual property rights apply to scientific discoveries?

  1. Dec 29, 2013 #1
    Say for example I discovered how to unify General Relativity with Quantum Mechanics and then someone else uses this improved understanding of physics to engineer a new product which would have been impossible without it. Am I entitled to a portion of the revenue generated by the new product?

    What about all the electronics now on the market that rely heavily on principles of quantum mechanics? Can the physicists who discovered those principals (or their heirs) claim a portion of the revenue generated? What about the universities or laboratories that funded the research that resulted in said discoveries?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 29, 2013 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    No. The "someone else" would hold the patent and you would not have any statutory rights to the invention nor any royalties, profits, or other revenues.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2013
  4. Dec 29, 2013 #3
    Do you know if anyone has ever conducted any studies to determine if applying intellectual property rights to scientific discoveries would result in...

    More private capital investment in research -> greater scientific progress


    Reduced sharing of research and ideas -> less scientific progress

    I'm sure both would happen, but has anybody done any serious study on what the net effect would be?
  5. Dec 29, 2013 #4


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    You can't patent an idea. And you can't protect anything once it is in the public domain.

    So your only best chance of making money from your unified theory is never to publish the theory, but invent some patentable gizmo that uses it yourself.

    Of course that means it's hard to tell whether or not you are a crackpot - but plenty of crackpots make money, so why is that a big deal? :devil:
  6. Dec 29, 2013 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    And even worse - you can't patent a fact.
  7. Dec 29, 2013 #6


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    Patent law [title 37, us code of federal regulations] specifically excludes protection of laws of nature. This includes things such as mathematical formulas, and even extends to naturally occurring genes. Engineered genes can, however, be protected - usually. This area of law is new and continually evolving. GATT stirred things up at the PTO and has had a significant impact of us patent laws. Non-patented inventions can be protected under the trade secrets provision of the patent law. The problem is it offers no protection if someone figures out your 'secret' - unless they stole it from you. Trade secrets are normally reserved for things that are difficult to reverse engineer - like a special process.
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