View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news

How to stop patents stifling innovation

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Patents are a seen as backbone of innovation – there’s no point in investing vast sums of money in something if a competitor can replicate your product as soon as it’s released. However, this of course means that innovations which could be used for the good of society can be controlled by patent holders (who may or may not give much weight to the ‘benefit society’ objective).

An interesting article in The Economist suggests how our patent system could be changed to promote innovation.

Apparently, studies have found that 40-90% of patents are never used or licensed out. As a result, the article suggests that patents should come with a “use it or lose it” rule, so that they expire if the invention is not brought to market. Also, in many industries patents of 20 years are simply too long.

This video is an entertaining plug for the value of intellectual property, but unfortunately it seems that the evidence suggests the current patent system is in fact a very poor way to promote innovation. Time for a rethink.

Author: Rebecca Nesbit

I am author of a popular science book 'Is that Fish in your Tomato?' exploring the fact and fiction of GM crops. In my work and leisure so far, I have trained bees to detect explosives, used a radar to study butterflies for my PhD, written a novel, taken the train from London to China, organised Biology Week, sold science jewellery on Etsy, and traveled to four continents with Nobel Laureates. Best off all, I've made lots of friends whose support I very much appreciate. Thank you! Please visit my website:

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