Do Patents Kill Innovation?

When working on something potentially groundbreaking, investors and scientists must have the protection of their ideas foremost in their minds. Applying for a patent, or the exclusive right granted by a country to an inventor, is one of the critical steps that inventors have to complete no later than a year after a description of their invention has been publicly disclosed or has been made available for commercial use.

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This is also the case for many technology companies where patents are the core of the competitiveness of products and services. With an arsenal of patents at their disposal, tech companies can protect their proprietary products and rule the market. The only recourse of competitors is to develop innovations of their own.

But some argue that certain sectors such as tech are better off without patents. As Kevin Maney put it in this Newsweek article, “patents have turned into a bigger CEO time-waster than golf.” The thousands of dollars spent in filing a patent actually stifle innovation than support it. A paper published in 2013 in The Journal of Economic Perspectives further posits that “there is no empirical evidence that they [patents] serve to increase innovation and productivity, unless productivity is identified with the number of patents awarded—which, as evidence shows, has no correlation with measured productivity.” The biggest move against patenting, however, was Tesla Motors’ decision to give away its patent. As CEO Elon Musk pointed out, protecting Tesla’s patents stifles progress in electric vehicle technology.

“To patent or not to patent”: that is now the question for today’s inventors, scientists, and innovators. While the naysayers may have assembled a solid argument, the fact remains that patents, ever since they were introduced centuries ago, promote not only innovation but also economic growth. And the technologies, products, and services people enjoy today are the result of proprietary ideas that all flourished under the patent system.

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A partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, Irah Donner focuses on the counseling, acquisition, and enforcement of all forms of intellectual property rights, with emphasis on the patenting of computer software and hardware applications. More discussions on the U.S. patent system are featured on this blog.


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