This week was a monumental decision by the Supreme Court. It declared natural DNA cannot be patented. To me this was a “no brainer”. And would be akin to someone trying to patent an element like Lithium, Argon, or Oxygen – “Hey, no breathing unless you’ve paid us for our oxygen patent.”
This was recently in the news because the company that held a patent on the human DNA responsible for breast cancer charges about $3,000 a test or more. Where as other companies have developed their own more economical tests that cost just a few hundred dollars. But Myriad claimed ownership of the DNA itself. Preventing people from receiving this diagnosis tests.
You want a large reason for our high medical costs, look to patents, and FDA approvals. And yes, I understand there is an investment in research. But the abuse is also rampant. And people shouldn’t be dying so share holders can have nice yachts.
An example was the recent case where the FDA gave exclusive right to a phamaceutical corp to produce a progesterone drug that prevented premature labor. The drug, had been in use since the 50’s. It actually pre-dated the FDA. It was commonly $10-$30 a shot, and could require dozens of doses during a pregnancy. The drug was in fact an early cancer drug, but a number of doctors noted it seemed to prevent early labor. A later University study confirmed this effect, and it went into secondary use. The FDA decided on a whim to grant exclusive license to this old drug to a pharmaceutical company under the auspices that they would be able to produce it in higher quality. The result? The price went from as low as $10 a dose to an astounding $1,500/dose. Remember, this big pharm company didn’t invent the drug, they did zero research in its creation nor the evaluation of its secondary use. There was absolutely no need to “recoup” the so-called billions of dollars
So again on Slashdot is a story on the song “Happy Birthday to You”. Numerous folk have been sued over this song. Millions have been made. And the copyright extended and extended. A documentary has gone to prove that the copyright should be invalid. That the song is long past when it should be in public domain. And with that proof, should Warner Music be forced to refund all those funds. (Because to be frank, I am sure they knew the song was older than their claim of having it published in a song book.)
But lets get to the real crux of the issue with IP rights. They exist for one reason, and one reason only. To benefit and encourage creativity and innovation. They do not exist to profit anyone, other than the idea being that if creators and innovators were to profit, they would create more.
Except there is a problem today. Very very few inventors or artists gain profit from their works. Today, nearly all the ownership of such rights are held by large corporations. The writer’s of “Happy Birthday” cause pittance, it’s the conglomerate gate keepers who have made millions. Artists are reknown for receiving very little of the profits their music earn the big labels.
Even the big pharmaceutical companies that often claim billions in research. Are more often than not, simply buying small development labs. Many little labs work on projects, most go fail and bust. The promising ones get purchased by big pharmaceuticals. Which declare their hard work. The result is usually, the owner and a few partners get a nice cut, and all the rest of the employees find themselves jobless.
Likewise, in the world of patents. The corporations rule. I remember reading about the invention of the CD-ROM. One man was a lead in the early development and research of optical technology. Then was laid off. He later was on the team that developed the first commercial optical disc. Once developed, he was laid off. He later found himself on the team that actually developed the CD-ROM, only to be laid off again. And that has sadly become norm for the inventors.
So what do I propose? I mean,…we can’t do away with IP rights, can we? I honestly, believe that the world would be better off today without them. Patents are preventing innovation. Looking at Google who had to spend $8 billion to buy Motorola in order to defend themselves against lawsuits from Apple. Who had patents on grid of icons and numerous design and usability elements which ALL existed decades prior.
So yes, I honestly believe that the world would be better off. There are things I’d work toward building, except I know I’d likely face a lawsuit. Even though I had the ideas far before others did. And let’s be honest. Big companies violate and steal IP all the time. Little companies seldom have the means to sue, and win, and even if they do. The compensation is seldom equivalent. SONY, pirated software code in the war to prevent piracy of their CDs. Microsoft stole the light mouse technology after a year of negotiations and technology sharing. Sure, they lost in court and had to pay $1 million in compensation. But they’ve made far more $$$ on the use of that technology. And if we were to be fair, if the average Joe received a $150,000 fine on a $1 song. Then shouldn’t bulti-billion dollar companies when they steal IP from the little guy, have to at a minimum, pay a 150,000x damage?
That said, I do think inventors should be encouraged. But our current system is failing to protect and encourage inventors, and it is failing to encourage innovation. So we need to replace it. Serious, if the Patent office burned to the ground, it would probably do more for the economy than any other stimulous package.
So how to benefit the inventor? I propose that companies cannot own patents. That patents have to be for truly new and novel developments. Not evolutionary, nor a mere use alteration of use, nor be inherrent to the technology (ie: drag to unlock is merely an inherrent use of existent drag and drop code – it is not an invention, it’s merely a replication of the “switch”, itself being several centuries old).
Why not, have the patents belong solely to individual inventors. Patents should not prevent someone else from building a better and cheaper mousetrap. As for the economic benefit, I propose the patent holder (or the company that employs them), receives a tax break.
So let’s say a guy invents the hover pod. Rather than saying he is the only one who can make hover pods. Anyone can….but whatever hover pod company employs the inventor, receives a 10% tax break for hover pods.
What would this do? Basically, it would start to guarantee that inventors would have continual employment. In fact, most companies would likely just pay an annual amount in order to receive that 10% and just tell the inventor to stay home. Invent more. And the inventor might do just that, and who knows. Maybe he’ll be hired by another company for a different invention. Eventually, Edisons and Bells and DaVinci’s would find themselves with steady streams of income that allow them the freedom and means to produce. And these patents would be for the life of the patent holder (+ 21 for their children – so if the patent holder dies, their children receive the benefit until age 21.)
Now we have a system that encourages innovation, but does NOT prevent someone from building a better mousetrap, a cheaper mousetrap, or from receiving life saving medical treatment.