Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The inefficiency of patents

Here is an article discussing the economic inefficiency inherent to intellectual property protection.  It also gives some ideas as to alternatives for the prevailing patent protection regime for medicines.  I personally understand the social benefit of some form of intellectual property protection, but I believe that it's gone way too far for most things, chief among them medicines and agricultural technology.  In particular, those who argue that a modern, productive agriculture necessitates a rigorous intellectual property regime would do well to remember that most of history's greatest agricultural achievements have occurred in a climate of little intellectual property protection for plant genetics.  The explosion of US apple clones in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Green Revolution of high-yielding grain varieties first in the US and then internationally, and most importantly, the very development of agriculture and the profusión of traditional peasant landraces for all major crops over the last ten thousand years--all of these transpired in an essentially open-source intellectual property legal regime.

What most struck a chord with me is how monopoly capital and the patent regime in drug research steers research towards patentable, monopolizable, marketable technologies, as opposed to techniques or lifestyle changes that can be disseminated free of charge:

"Drug patents also distort the direction of research by pushing it in the direction of patentable results. Research directed at finding cures or treatments based on diet, exercise, or environmental factors will not be pursued in a health care system that relies exclusively on patent monopolies to finance research. This neglect can be offset by government funding targeted specifically towards these areas, but the patent system will direct resources elsewhere."

This bears much in common with the state of agricultural research, much of which is done directly by private companies, or influenced in such a way by them that public research aligns with private company concerns.  The result is that the US today funds very little research into low-input, low-impact farming systems relying mainly on natural processes, because the products of such research would not be readily commercializable by or profitable to private companies.

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