Underlying many of these disputes is a fundamental question about what patents should cover. It's easy to articulate the principle that patents should apply only to inventions, not discoveries. It's not so easy to draw that distinction in practice, especially when technology is changing so rapidly. What's more, any decision to rein in patent protection risks reducing the incentives that lead people to invest in research and development. But it also could lead to more knowledge being shared sooner, leading to further innovation.In order to make public any new drug, whether it be "discovered" or "invented," a firm needs profit-based incentives. Without the potential for profits, we can expect drug companies will stop looking for gene-based solutions to disease. Simply put, without a patent, competition ensues and profits are whittled away. Patents give companies the right to set prices and make profits. When so much in the drug industry is patentable, why should we expect any firm to bother looking for cures that are not?
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Reining in patents
LA Times article "Reining in patents" (March 30th, 2010) complicates a very simple question: without profit based incentives, would firms bother to look for new goods?