April 20, 2010 7:57 AM Subscribe
What If The Very Theory That Underlies Why We Need Patents Is Wrong?
posted by infini (42 comments total)
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- This article discusses Modeling a Paradigm Shift: From Producer Innovation to User and Open Collaborative Innovation
, a working paper by Carliss Y. Baldwin
and Eric von Hippel,
suggesting that some of the most basic theories on which the patent system is based are wrong, and because of that, the patent system might hinder innovation.It looks at the putative theory that innovation comes from a direct profit motive of a single corporation looking to sell the good in market, and for that to work, the company needs to take the initial invention and get temporary monopoly protection to keep out competitors in order to recoup the cost of research and development.
But what caught my eye was this argument by the author evaluating the research paper,
...quite frequently innovation happens through a very different process: either individuals or companies directly trying to solve a problem they themselves have (i.e., the initial motive is not to profit directly from sales, but to help them in something they were doing) or through a much more collaborative process, whereby multiple parties all contribute to the process of innovation, somewhat openly, recognizing that as each contributes some, everyone benefits. As the report notes:
This result hinges on the fact that the innovative design itself is a non-rival good: each participant in a collaborative effort gets the value of the whole design, but incurs only a fraction of the design cost.
But, of course, patents are designed to make that sort of thing more difficult, because it assumes that the initial act of invention is the key point, rather than all the incremental innovations built on top of it that all parties can benefit from. In fact, the report points to numerous studies that show, when given the chance, many companies freely share their ideas with others, recognizing the direct benefit they get. This flies in the face of (unsubstantiated) claims by patent system supporters that the patent system is needed to disclose and share inventions. In fact, the evidence suggests that in many cases, firms will willingly share that information anyway (for a variety of reasons detailed in the report) without requiring the "prize" of a monopoly right to do so.