Re: Patents

John Clark (
Mon, 22 Feb 1999 16:52:17 -0500

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>Rigorous enforcement of emerging US patent law would almost end software

I agree that some patents are much too broad, particularly in the computer field. The pinnacle of absurdity was reached by Apple (not Microsoft) when they tried to patent the "look and feel" of their operating system. They claimed they owned such intangibles because they stole them fair and square from Xerox.

>Twice in the 19th century (Netherlands 1830s to 1850s and Switzerland 1870s
>to 1890s) patent laws were repealed mostly for ideological reasons (ideas
>should be free, etc.) In neither case did technological innovation decrease.
>In Switzerland this coincided with a spectacular increase in chemical industry
>innovation which resulted in the Swiss chemical and pharmeceutical industries.

In the mid 19th century the big money and the most important patents were in the coal tar dye business and nearly all the advances were made in Germany or Briton. The Netherlands and Switzerland were minor players and that explains their attitude toward patents. If you're small and have done no research and have no patents then it is certainly to your advantage to have patents abolished, no doubt about it. Once you get big and start to get original ideas that is no longer true

>Once they got large, of course, the new companies lobbied patent laws back
>in, ostensibly to protect research

Nothing mysterious here, if you don't have something then you have no interest in protecting it, when your research department starts producing results patents look a lot more interesting.

Tim Bates Wrote:

>the FDA regulators could care less about cost benefits, they focus almost
>exclusively on costs.

No argument, I'm sure that's true.

     >>The minimal thing in the drug business is not research but manufacturing. If
     >>Coca Cola cost 10$ a can and generic cola cost 10 cents a can then Coca Cola
     >>would be dead as the dodo. Price disparities of that magnitude are
     >>possible in the drug business.

>That is simply not true. The marginal cost of manufacturing a generic is >identical to the marginal cost of manufacture by the originator.

Yes, but the point is one has to pay a huge research and development bill and one gets a free ride. I think I know which side would win such a contest. In a non patent world the smart thing to do would be to put a new name on an old drug and use the money you would have used for research to pay for advertising to establish a new brand.

     >>Why reinvent the wheel? If a reputable drug company conducts safety tests
     >>there is no need to repeat them.

>The need to repeat them is that the data from the safety tests may be >kept trade secrets.

Three points:

  1. Doctors and their patients would never stand for safety tests conducted in secret, I don't have that much confidence in anyone or anything. All drugs have some dangers and I'd certainly want to know exactly what they are before I used them.
  2. Everything would become public at the very first liability trial.
  3. The good thing about patents is that they're not secret, if they were abolished the number of trade secrets would increase exponentially and free communication between scientists would come to a grinding halt. That's not good.
     >>Even with all their patents I can't build a router as good as Cisco's and
     >>sell it at 1% of their price.

>But Lucent can

No, I don't believe that they can.

Incidentally not long ago Lucent filed a big lawsuit against Cisco for violating their patents.

John K Clark

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