The case against patents

Thomas Jefferson once said:

Accordingly, it is a fact, as far as I am informed, that England was, until we copied her, the only country on earth which ever, by a general law, gave a legal right to the exclusive use of an idea. In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices.


And the debate on patents are more relevant than ever. Big companies suing each other for billions has become commonplace. Collecting patents to fuel an arsenal of defensive legal leverage, tip-toeing the mine field of patents when trying to invent something new, using patents to stifle competition rather than innovate, forging patents alliances that centralizes power and keeps the smaller players off the playing field. The list goes on. And the net value is hardly innovation incentive.

I want to bring to your attention an article that details the economic effects of patents (link to the full article). The abstract reads:

The case against patents can be summarized briefly: there is no empirical evidence that they serve to increase innovation and productivity, unless productivity is identified with the number of patents awarded—which, as evidence shows, has no correlation with measured productivity. Both theory and evidence suggest that while patents can have a partial equilibrium effect of improving incentives to invent, the general equilibrium effect on innovation can be negative. A properly designed patent system might serve to increase innovation at a certain time and place. Unfortunately, the political economy of government-operated patent systems indicates that such systems are susceptible to pressures that cause the ill effects of patents to grow over time. Our preferred policy solution is to abolish patents entirely and to find other legislative instruments, less open to lobbying and rent seeking, to foster innovation when there is clear evidence that laissez-faire undersupplies it. However, if that policy change seems too large to swallow, we discuss in the conclusion a set of partial reforms that could be implemented.

The article is an excellent read and complements the book, “Against Intellectual Monopoly“.

Also check out Johanna Blakley’s neat TED talk on the same:

6 thoughts on “The case against patents

  1. Patents can even be dangerous, check out genetically modified foods an montsanto.

  2. Good article Geir. Though I find myself on the the receiving end of the theft of patented / copyrighted theft. In fact, I am currently embroiled in the commercial crime prosecution, of almost 90% of my own intellectual property, by vested interests, who have had the financial muscle for rampant exploitation.

    That is, up until now. It has taken over ten years of extensive undercover work, to document the necessary hard evidence, to now proceed with confidence, in finally opening a case against the unscrupulous bastards.

    The smaller guys, (artists, musicians, writers and inventors) who are often the real innovators, need the protection offered by the statutes. Sadly though, they are simply ill equipped, to endure the arduous and costly processes of litigation in a civil case.

    If it weren’t for the provisions offered via Section 27 of The Copyright Act, (Criminal prosecution, which is paid for by the State), I wouldn’t stand a chance of successfully bringing the pirates to book.

      1. Yeah, that was the ‘road’ I was ‘advised’ to follow, by my high priced attorneys. It only backfired, with even more aggressive piracy! Hence the fight fire with a BOMB response!! 🙂

        Your advice was realized some time back, however, and that is precisely why I’m keeping the latest innovations totally ‘mum’.

        Appreciate your interest, Guru. 🙂

Have your say

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s