Are Patents and IP Law Good For Innovation And Society?


What would the world be like if the patent was invented before the wheel?

Contemplate for a moment how evolution and time has seen us grow as a collective species, how we are building new tools based on the tools before us. Collaboration and innovation was minding it’s own business serving the human race, then one day some complete human idiot decided to invent ‘the patent’. Following from that single point in history, people became accustomed to claiming human inventions/tools as their own private property. It was their child, regardless if they were unlikely the first monkey to have that idea, and they refused to consider the ethics that it was made possible with tools and the collective knowledge everyone else shared with them. Remember this would have been the same monkey that needed to be taught how to wipe it’s bottom. The original patent law in Italy only lasted a year – this is acceptable…someone gets a bit of spotlight and recognition for their contribution to society for a year, without loosing any benefit to the society responsible for creating both the inventor and the invention.

I see Intellectual Property an asset that needs passing around for maximum research and innovation potential. As far as I’m concerned, for every patent that is signed – the person who signed it will find their themselves, a loved one, or a friends loved one loose an extra tens years from their lifespan. This what I’m talking about here, lost innovation and research potential to improve human life and quality – why else are people in the STEM industries doing what they do? don’t believe me? then get rid of patents and test it! l’d like you to join me on a little fantasy at this point, a shared vision which I lovingly call ‘bullshit amnesty decade’. For ten years we all collectively agree to ignore patents even exist and just refuse to recognise any authority or power we’ve been led to recognise? What would happen if humanity started to notice the following kinds of things…and started to enjoy it?

  • The collective knowledge of human achievement would no longer have false claims of ownership placed on it. Knowledge would be free to fly and circulate like it naturally should. Knowledge imbalance produces economic imbalance because its a very basic law of ‘garbage in  – garbage out’.
  • Poor countries with health pressures would make for themselves at cost price whatever medicines they need. No longer would we see the most demanded health care be the least reachable.
  • Inter-country collaboration would improve, knowledge sharing would be the norm and it would bring countries closer together.
  • Innovation would happen more regularly because employee inventions would no longer belong to their employers. Did you know Steve Wozniak invented the Apple1 computer in his own time whilst he worked at HP? It wasn’t an issue though – he begged them to build it and they just didn’t see any future to it.
  • The cost of research and the speed of research would be crowd-shared between countries to see innovation speed accelerate.
  • Health researchers would start paying attention to the few shaman healers of indigenous tribes who have survived our deliveries of flu, amazon oil slicks and loggers with HIV. These rare and invaluable tribes are the keepers of thousands of years of oral wisdom to anyone who wants to learn. The jungles are a variety of flowers, fauna, botany, barks and insects of un-familiar medical and health treatments they have been using for generations. A patent can only be placed on an invention, so this rules out every health approach a traditional shaman of ‘at risk’ knowledge has to offer. It is not seen acceptable to invest resources into developing a treatment that does not come with ownership of the supply chain via legal instrument. If they did develop an effective treatment without a patent- the competitors would be distributing copies very quickly. Remove patents – and the only way to compete is to focus resources on effective treatments – and you’ve got a little guy in a mud hut with a bone through his nose who can tell you if you just ask. Would we see a revolution in health care fast? Amazon plant yield miracle cure for dental pain (2012)
  • The UK has recently been looking at revising it’s own laws in the area of patents regarding medicine – joining the list of European countries that have already done this: cutting of red tape to benefit research and development of new drugs. It’s not my inspiration for this article, but it’s nice to know it’s being considered a genuine health innovation barrier that leaders are taking the time to seriously re-evaluate the impact.

Badi’al-Zaman Abū al-‘Izz Ismā’īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī.
Badi'al-Zaman Abū al-'Izz Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī.This translated to “The al-Jazari Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices” the works of a muslim inventor named al-Jazari who died in 1206. This manuscript is the best argument I know of to support the collaboration and innovation potential of open knowledge without restriction of flow of dissemination. The manuscript may look like a child’s drawing collection but it features segmental gears 150 years before Da-vinci thought he was being original, cam-shafts 200 years before the British and the first known use of vacuum suction (hydro-powered too). This was 600 years before England had even built it’s first windmill! Consider the innovation, technological leap and historical changes that would have altered our history if thisamazing manuscript of 100 machine designs had been delivered to England during that point in our history? Would anyone even comprehend it? Would he be so ahead that no-one would comprehend it’s value and laugh at him like the village did to William in his African village when he decided to construct a wind turbine from rubbish which they did not understand.. everyone including his parents thought he was abusing drugs and going crazy until he climbed up and attached a car light bulb the first time. There are more imagineers just like al-Jazari in every generation, but today al-Jazari would not have written down his inventions because his employer or professor or school would own the invention because of IPR umbrella restrictions – limiting even his ability to distribute his revolutionary knowledge. Today we have internet technology to distribute knowledge to everyone quickly, but commercial risk from business competition has replaced collaboration and patents are hiding too much knowledge. So now have a new unexpected problem…. the inability to share knowledge/personal ideas because larger business entities overshadowing inventors activity in new ideas, IPR and creations – even if they are isolated to weekends and non-working hours!

Just an idea to put put there…. the official ‘bodger/inventor’ license to maximise research and contribution:

  1. How about a new type of legal entity besides a person, ltd company, plc etc which I’ll call ‘the bodger’. This is a special license given to researchers with a life-focus toward invention and research for citizen benefit.
  2. A ‘bodger’ registers their private place of invention (shed, home, lab etc) which outside of contracted employment business hours, becomes a safe sanctuary which they do not have to disclose anything they work on, and it is sealed with guaranteed IPR ownership from any third party clients.
  3. They just have to enter the details of invention into the ‘bodgers register’ that only other ‘bodgers’ can view -so they have full license to make use of it.
  4. After a certain amount of time (ten years), a copy of their IPR details are automatically put into a public access register with a royalty free license.
  5. The only exception is if they have identified it as ‘dangerous’ as required by their bodger license ethics and only ‘bodgers’ will ever see the details.
    1. Sometimes this is necessary for special interests like the case of Nicola Tesla’s construction of his wardenclyffe tower for remote wireless energy transmission. He was openly heard commenting that his research had weapon potential to generate earthquakes or kill an army 200 miles away, so public safety concerns saw the FBI confiscate and seal his research (recently getting part-revealed) to prevent it falling into enemy hands.
    2. It is often said about science that “the dividing line between good and evil is a very thin one” – a quote I tribute to Sir Bernard Lovell famous for building the Manchester University Jodrell Bank Radio-Telescope in the UK who may have been privately referencing guilt for his innovation in radar detection of German Aircraft – technology that employs microwave emissions that was later seen to cause a generation of infertility, cancer, muscle tissue damage and microwaved eyeballs (cataracts).

Side-Stepping Knowledge-Transfer Monopolies, Bottlenecks and Extortion
We’ve reached a stage in our development where our tools can no longer be constructed by word of mouth for rapid assembly by individuals. Everything is complex and not possible to store in the mind of one person, let alone the same person communicating it all. Information is stored across teams and collaborations – little collective tribeorganisms flocking to whatever needs doing in perfect unison whilst making little improvements to the last build. This means knowledge is not easily accessible from as much variety as we once enjoyed, as there are fewer providers and educators capable of the knowledge transfer – it can take over 10 years to earn the experience and education for some roles – and that is a single person in a large team of equal skill involved in modern industry. This means we are a society rife with open-knowledge limitations thanks to these Intellectual Property and Patent instruments which protect employer/educator investment and give them priority of invention. It is the open-source and open knowledge movement now responsible for securing safe passage of our collective human knowledge that needs to be carried from crowd-to-crowd, it’s not ‘person to person’ anymore. So much knowledge is reserved by institutions and societies and research departments – but I see another entity developing and rolling forward an open independently gathered source of this knowledge. My future hero’s to tackle this problem head-on are the younger generations of developing nations with dense populations. Take a look at the rate level of autodidactic education/intelligence/engagement of  children in heavily populated developing countries like India, consider the combination of:

  1. English as a popular language
  2. Low wealth causing strong adoption of free open-source software
  3. Internet based educational access from MOOCS (Massively Open Online Courses)
  4. Special relations with England as a ‘past colony’ support knowledge transfer pipelines to educational facilities from the collective EU state.

This means these intelligent bright Indian students being moulded as cheap skilled labour for outsourced IT skills, call-centres etc are going to refine their collective wisdom with the tools they have been provided. They will innovate like crazy just like every other developing country seeing it’s tech boom and bubbles, they will invent better things than we have. I see them refining better access to further education, building knowledge banks with their unique high-adoption of open-source software and content with ‘open commons’ licenses. This means an independant wave of new IPR superior and better knowledge transfer between citizens eager to innovate. They are maybe 1 or 2 generations behind corporate innovation stages and they will move closer to the cutting-edge surprisingly fast. With a caste system putting them in a social pecking order, they don’t waste opportunity and have learnt from early-age to adopt an attitude of hard work and collaboration and constant learning internally and independant. Skills and talent will be replicated and distributed and it will stay open-knowledge because that is how they learnt and how they were able to access it without cost barriers. Consider the EU and India have operated a software educational partnership for tech/science knowledge transfer since 2002 on top an already well-established tech industry. India already has self-developed nuclear power, nuclear ballistic missiles, a space agency, satellite networks and have already sent an orbiter to Mars. If you don’t believe they are closing in on western innovation – consider that it took the U.S two tries to get an orbiter to Mars whilst India did it first time at only 11% of the cost. They are not spending as much time or cost for the same knowledge leaps thanks to the worlds second largest pool of technology and engineering expertise. Innovation and co-operation seems to be much more productive when you have more friends than enemies to collaborate with – securing interest with tactical force and legal frameworks is an expensive game and the slowest route.

If you’ve read my articles before, you’ll have heard this already – Education and knowledge-transfer is the best way to bring neighbours together and to identify value, appreciation and respect for each other. How many more world-changing inventions are we sat on with the same impact potential as the first wheel or al-Jazari’s manuscript with the drawings of labour-saving nature-powered innovations that England would not figure out for hundreds of years? Come on leaders – stop playing musical chairs on innovation. Get rid of those patent laws and innovation might reward you in ways you didn’t expect , and no, I’m not talking genetically altered banana milkshake cows…that would be un-ethical as well as delicious.

On a realistic final note… 
As someone with 16 years commercial experience as an IT professional focused on advanced MSc study in data-sciences, clinical trial data , I’m also talking as someone having already developed various medical-related systems with trialled innovations in citizen-engagement tools, which I will continue to do until I fill that gap between health researchers and the UK/EU public. I have to be grounded in my expectations of the industry most important to me that I’ve invested my future to. Whilst open-data and removal of IPR issues will advance health-research, as long as there are competitors and interests that don’t want to share discovery and will try to limit my own – it is a defensive strategy to do the same to protect my ability to continue working in an industry I’m heavily committed and invested to now. I know my day-dream of removing the IP legal frameworks in the real-life world would cause considerable economic instability effecting lots of pre-existing research efforts of many families across the world. I’m not un-realistic in my expectations, I enjoy challenging the limits to ensure the best landscape to support maximum effectiveness. When something doesn’t feel right or could be better – I like to use a blog to get it out of my system before carrying on with renewed focus. If anything, I like to put it out there to see what new ideas and discussion comes back.

We are getting very close now to the UK government opening it’s NHS archives to anonymous open-data. The EU and world bank and many other power-houses are helping drive open-data initiatives. On the government front we have  the global open-data initiative, the UK, EU and US who are each focused on public interest, engagement and trust building ‘forward planning’. On the commercial side we have Apple ResearchKit, PatientsLikeMe and the ‘internet of things‘ idea which is a clever way of saying ‘sensors that send information to the internet’ like the FitBit health-monitoring devices. China has been pushing this concept for years with hidden microphones in kettles heading to Western corporations (but thats another story). My continued personal favourite open-data innovation is 23andme who provide genome sequencing and reporting. As long as people keep sharing and data keeps flowing – change is happening, but maybe not as fast as the impatient research data-gobblers among us would like. As long as your data can be anonymised, and you can see from your home what data is shared, who can see it, who has done things with it and you can disable all sharing or delete it – I think we’ll be okay!

For the record…the patent for the wheel currently stands undisputed and was registered in May 2001 by an Australian man named John Keogh, a legal monkey who just wanted to prove patents are rubber stamped with as much attention as a legal tool production line.


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