Patents Aren’t Signs of Economic Health

The President in the State of the Union speech pridefully observed that America issues more patents than any other country.  So what.  That’s not a sign of economic vitality.  It’s a sign of government giving privileged monopolies to some and allowing them to stop the march of learning, innovation, and research.  Matthew Yglesias understands.  John Bennett at Against Monopoly observes:

Matt Yglesias does a neat skewering of Obama’s State of the Union self-congratulatory allusion to our patents: “No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs.”link hereHe then does a riff on what would have happened if Newton had got a software patent on calculus. He would have sat on the patent “until Leibniz published his superior method and then sued the pants off anyone who tried to take a derivative without coughing up a hefty license fee.”

Yglesias manages to get in other digs over what is currently patentable and the likely lower quality of today’s patents. He concludes by noting patents do not create “property’ but rather are a regulation which creates a monopoly.

Read it.

The same site earlier this week reported how patents are actually slowing and blocking progress in one of the most promising arenas of medical research, stem cell research:

One of the most promising areas for medical research are stem cells, and now that the Obama Administration has lifted many restrictions on their use, you would think this line of research would be booming. Not so according to Medindia which reports that there has been such a rush to patent in this area that research is in fact very difficult now

4 thoughts on “Patents Aren’t Signs of Economic Health

  1. I read Matt Yglesias article at the link you mentioned relating to Newton patenting calculus –
    ‘To offer an analogy that I actually think isn’t stretched at all, but 21st century standards Isaac Newton should have patented calculus (“A Method For Using Fluxions To Determine Instantaneous Rate of Change”) and then waited patiently until Leibniz published his superior method and then sued the pants off anyone who tried to take a derivative without coughing up a hefty license fee. But would that world have been a better place? ….’ However, the comments section was largely concerned with the idiosyncrasies dealing with the type of development which is allowed to be developed.

    FakeBillyTubbs [Moderator] 01/26/2011 12:41 PM
    On the contrary, your analogy is very stretched. At no point, now or in the past, would “calculus” have been patentable. Had Newton developed a machine that enabled him to perform calculations, then he would be eligible for a patent on the machine itself. But he could not enjoin or collect damages from anyone for performing derivative calculations. Pure algorithms and properties of nature have never been patentable. For someone who spends a lot of time bemoaning the current US patent system, you sure don’t seem to know a lot about it beyond what you read in some anti-patent magazine articles somewhere.

    (Edited by author 2 days ago)

    My impression is that since Newton’s method may not have been patentable, this could be an incorrect point of reference for the point you are attempting to make. I did not read all comments at the link:

    Am I missing something here?

    • Actually the commenter “FakeBillyTubbs” is a bit out of touch with our current patent system. For a long time, there had been a legal principle based on court decisions, not legislation, wherein “algorithms” or “principles of pure mathematics” could not be considered patentable material. However, once we re-organized a couple decades ago to create an seperate US Appellate court for strictly patent issues, that court has consistently broadened the scope of patentability. In the last 15 years we have seen patents granted in the U.S. for business methods, ideas for tax shelters, and a variety of software techniques. Amazon at one point held a patent on being able to buy something on the Internet using only one click of the mouse. It would not have taken long for skilled modern-day patent attorneys to put together a patent application for Newton’s calculus that would have met the test.

      And, increasingly, if he couldn’t have patented it, he could have gotten a copyright on the use of “dx/dy”. I think the essence of Yglesias argument stands.

  2. Pingback: Patents Aren't Signs of Economic Health « EconProph

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