Patent News

Sep. 26, 2014

IP Watchdog: Fairy Tales and Other Irrational Beliefs About Patents, by Gene Quinn

This post originally appeared in IP Watchdog on September 26, 2014.

We are at a point in time where the overwhelming sentiment is against the patent system. Rather than celebrating innovators the public, and our leaders, vilify anyone who has the audacity to seek patent protection. The simple reality is that without a strong patent system investment in innovation will cease. This truth should be self evident to anyone with half a brain, but sadly it is not. There are many truly ignorant individuals who actually believe that investment in research and development will continue even if the day an innovation reaches the market it can be copied without recourse by competitors. What a fairy tale!

As Dr. Kirstina Lybecker has explained: “Incentives are essential to innovation due to the expense of research and development activities, and the public-goods nature of the resulting knowledge.” Indeed, there is no business person in the world who would ever invest the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars necessary to bring ground-breaking innovations to market without the expectation of the competitive advantage provided by a strong patent. In the real world investors seek a reasonable return on investment given the risk, which is quite substantial in the high-tech, innovative world. To ignore this reality one must be firmly planted in fantasy and not the real world.

The reality that it easily takes many hundreds of thousands of dollars in research, development, safety engineering and marketing costs to bring even a simple kitchen gadget to market. With all those sunk costs the innovator couldn’t hope to sell the product for as cheap as those who simply copy having invested nothing in terms of time or money to develop the product. Without a competitive advantage sane people do not invest money in even simple gadgets, which is why it is extraordinarily difficult to get a licensing deal without a patent, and why the first question investors ask is about your patent position. As celebrated inventor Dean Kamen has said, “[t]he first thing the bank or that venture capitalist will say is, ‘Do you have a patent?’” This is the common experiences shared by everyone in the industry. Those who say it isn’t so are simply not credible.