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The Problem With Patents
Posted: 14 November 2012 09:29 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A look at patent trolls and some of the other problems plaguing our patent industry.  It’s all kind of absurd really.

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Posted: 15 November 2012 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Hmmm….interesting.  How can you patent pot?

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Posted: 20 November 2012 01:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Here’s a lawsuit over patent infringement for something that doesn’t even exist yet. No wonder we keep so many lawyers in business!

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Posted: 26 November 2012 08:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Makes you want to cry a little inside, huh?

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Posted: 04 December 2012 09:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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“The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would decide whether human genes may be patented.”  “The case the court added to its docket concerns patents held by Myriad Genetics, a Utah company, on genes that correlate with increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.”

Yup.  Our legal and patent systems are so unbelievably fucked up that a case like this actually exists. 

tumblr_mebrftIuR41rivm3eo2_500.jpg

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Posted: 04 December 2012 04:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Patents are obviously very important. Without them no one could protect their work. It would kill innovation if an inventor could spend years working on something and someone else could just come along and produce a knockoff stealing all their work.

I havent spent a lot of time thinking about this topic but the breast cancer issue has been on my radar for a while. Biotech research is extremely labor intensive with many blind alleys that lead no where. To encourage entrepreneurs to invest the time and money in these long shots there needs to be the potential for a large payoff. The problem with the BRCA gene test patent is that the inventors of this test have not just patented the test itself but the gene that it looks for. This would be a bit like the the person who discovered the polio virus patenting the virus so no one else could make a vaccine rather than just patenting the vaccine. I think this takes things too far when trying to balance the needs of the inventor with those of society, and that’s the key. There needs to be a balance between those two needs

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Posted: 04 December 2012 06:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I wonder if anyone has thought of patenting specific compounds.  I think I’d like to patent one made up of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen.  If that goes through, I’ll go for the compound made up of two atoms of oxygen.  Then I’ll demand payment for any H2O transfer, especially if anyone drinks it.  Then, I’ll demand payment for all those who think they can get away by sucking O2 into their lungs without my permission.  vampire

Occam

{Ah yes, critical thinking argument #7, reductio absurdum}

[ Edited: 04 December 2012 06:59 PM by Occam. ]
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Posted: 05 December 2012 09:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Mac, I pretty much agree.  While I think we need patents so people will actually bother with making new things the system as it currently stands is horribly broken.  It allows for absurd, pseudoscientific, and terribly vague patents.  And it’s problems coupled with the problems with our legal system allow and patent trolls to thrive.  There are ongoing attempts to fix it, but as with all attempts to fix existing problems they’re hampered by interest groups, institutional hurdles, public apathy, and the like.  Maybe we should make patent trolldom punishable by death.  That would be nice.  vampire

Occam, that’s not a bad idea.  Hell, word the patent vaguely enough with enough obtuse jargon and you may even be able to pull it off.

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Posted: 05 December 2012 09:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Patents are important.

What’s necessary is a way to actually test applications for things like obviousness (the current standard is obscenely easy) or anticipation (including old papers from the 1930’s), as well as simple derivitives that are not only obvious, but where simple deduction leads directly.

For instance, if somebody does something with a speech signal, is it novel and patentable to do the same thing with a music signal?  For instance, store same in a computer…

For that matter, if you have a PCM signal in the computer, and you want to store an encoded (say ADPCM) version of it, is it novel to run the digital codec, that is commonly implimented in a computer processor, before you store it in on the disc? Is storing it on the disc novel, given that’s where all other files go.

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Posted: 05 December 2012 05:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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While the genetic composition of each of us is unique, it seems crazy to patent one or even parts of one.  If a lab found that you had a particular gene segment which protected you from some common disease, it’s your gene segment.  I can see them offering to license it from you, but patenting it should be allowed only by the person who has it as part of his/her genetics,

Occam

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Posted: 05 December 2012 06:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Occam. - 05 December 2012 05:29 PM

While the genetic composition of each of us is unique, it seems crazy to patent one or even parts of one.  If a lab found that you had a particular gene segment which protected you from some common disease, it’s your gene segment.  I can see them offering to license it from you, but patenting it should be allowed only by the person who has it as part of his/her genetics,

Occam

I’m not sure i really agree with that Occam. The gene may have fortuitously occurred in your genome but you had no idea it was there nor slightest idea what its significance was until a scientist came along and did the work to discover its importance. The scientists’ contribution to the development of that gene as something which is valuable to society is far greater than the person who just happened to have the gene in their body but was oblivious to its powers.

If someone discovers that a mineral found on your property can be used in a valuable new invention is he then obligated to pay you a royalty even if he is able to acquire the mineral through other sources later?

The book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” explores a related topic although it is done so from the point of the non-scientist and is heavily biased in favor of the individual who’s tissue was used to create a cancer cell line for research.

Patent laws were not created to ensure payment to the “rightful owners” of a particular invention. Their sole purpose is to promote innovation. Allowing the person in whom the gene was discovered to claim some sort of ownership would be counter productive in that regard. It would sacrifice the greater good for the financial interest of a single individual who really did not contribute much to the process.

[ Edited: 05 December 2012 07:04 PM by macgyver ]
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Posted: 06 December 2012 11:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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My comment was based on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”.  They used her genetics, not “minerals from another source” and she didn’t get any compensation - not millions, but at least a few thousand dollars would have been fairer.

Quoting Mac:

Patent laws were not created to ensure payment to the “rightful owners” of a particular invention. Their sole purpose is to promote innovation.

  That may have been the original motivation, however, it’s become a minor purpose.  Most patents today are precisely designed for profit; innovation is only an excuse.  When a pharmaceutical company gets a patent on a product, fine.  When it runs out, and they get a new patent for the product because they added a small amount of aspirin, just so they get another seventeen years, that’s not promoting innovation.

Oh, and an aditional major reason for setting up the patent system was to make innovation available to the society after a reasonable time for the inventor to be rewarded, rather than having everything kept hidden forever as trade secrets.

Occam

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Posted: 06 December 2012 05:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The problem with The Henrietta Lacks case is that there really was nothing special about her cells in the sense that many other cancer patients have cells with similar characteristics. What made her cells special was how they were cultured and prepared by the scientists.

It would slow down science immensely if we had to get consent from every individual before their discarded tissue was used for research. Lots of greedy individuals would start to demand royalties and nothing would ever get done. You are right that this wasnt a mineral, it was less than that. A better analogy would be garbage. This was something that she wanted removed and without the forethought of the scientists it would have ended up in the garbage pail.

The author of the Immortal Life did a complete hatchet job. She found a poor woman with whom we could all be sympathetic and then painted a picture of greedy people who profited from her and left her destitute. Would you feel the same way about this if we turned the story around and a poor orderly discovered a way to use the discarded tissue of wealthy socialite to save lives?  We need to separate the individuals from the act. Whether this was right or wrong needs to be independent of who the winners and losers are.

You are correct about the time limits on patents. They were designed to allow the inventor a reasonable period of time to recoup their investment and make a profit before the patent expired.. again to spur innovation. The laws are not perfect and need to be revisited for many reasons including the example you gave about tweaking a drug and getting a new patent, but one problem with the laws is that they don’t take into account that recoupment time and reasonable profits are different depending on the product you are talking about. Items that require billions of dollars in investment and result in lots of dead ends like biologicals need more protection than the next ab-roller exercise machine which someone designed in their living room and brought to market in a month with a few thousand dollars. What many people dont realize is that the clock starts ticking on things like drugs from the day the patent is given not the day the drug goes to market. If a company patents a drug and the research then takes ten years to do they may have only a few years left from the time the drug goes to market until the patent runs out.

If you dont provide an the possibility for a big win, companies wont take big risks to develop the next breakthrough treatment or invention.

Disclaimer: To avoid conflict of interest I never invest in pharmaceutical companies and do not accept money or gifts from them. My arguments are based on what i believe is fair to innovators of all types who devote their lives to making our world a better place.

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Posted: 07 December 2012 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Very good points.
Other problems with the patent system are a) that often the examiner in a certain area could make much higher wages elsewhere so less competent people are hired for that job, b) there are so many narrow areas of research and development today, that it’s unlikely that anyone could be proficient in them all.

Occam

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Posted: 09 December 2012 02:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I’m wondering if the cost to reverse engineer such discoveries supersedes or comes close to the cost of research? There must be some unique situations where the extensive costs of research defines such complex discoveries that it is unfeasible to even try to reverse engineer. And since it is claimed that the interest of the discoverers are meant to be the function of patents, why not mail the formula to themselves like a copyright and keep the patent offices out of it? Shouldn’t they trust themselves to keep the secret? The usual targets of patent infringement are suckers who can’t afford a good defense like these larger corporations can. (Monsanto makes a regular living off of suing poor farmers under conditions that the weather itself could have caused.)

I don’t care how much a group or organization expends in research. I don’t think biology should be patented. If is isn’t feasible to have these private corporations fund their research in these areas, then a government corporation can and will step in to do it with the whole of society paying and benefiting in the research. The patents would be public property via government.

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Posted: 10 December 2012 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Scott Mayers - 09 December 2012 02:30 PM

I don’t care how much a group or organization expends in research. I don’t think biology should be patented. If is isn’t feasible to have these private corporations fund their research in these areas, then a government corporation can and will step in to do it with the whole of society paying and benefiting in the research. The patents would be public property via government.

Well that certainly is an option. I’m not sure its smart to have only government funded research though. First, government funding is dependent on the political climate at any given moment. When the government is involved fiscal, religious, and philosophical forces often make it difficult to do any long term investment and planning on many fronts. Just look what has happened with stem cell research in this country over the past dozen years. I’m also not sure that the government is a particularly good arbiter of where to best invest every dime of the limited research funds that are available. I really think the current system which involves basic research often being funded by the government and practical research being done by commercial interests ( although there is obviously some crossover) makes the most sense.

We really have to keep our personal prejudices and biases out of this decision. The bottom line should always be “where do we want to put the incentives so that society gains the maximum benefit?” If that means that we need to protect the investments of companies doing biological research so that they are willing to take big risks and invest more money in promising research then we need to do that even if we find certain ideas philosophically distasteful.

There are some things that private industry does much better and more efficiently than the government.  If you shut that down by doing away with patent protection then a lot of good work just wont get done. Doing away with patents could slow down innovation and research very dramatically.

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