Have patents outlived their usefulness?

Are patents still a useful invention to carry forward into the future?

Unaffordable price increases in the medical industry (where patent hoarding is a common practice where well-funded firms stock up on pre-emptive patents – i.e. patents for hypothetical future medtech innovations, new drugs, and medical devices) indicate that abuse of patents might be part of the problem.

Patents were designed to protect innovators and increase innovation. Patent hoarding, however has the opposite to intended effect.

Of course, unintended consequences are common side effect of well-intentioned and once-useful policy innovations.

People being people find ways to bend rules to their own ends – however it is also possible other people to beat loophole exploiters at their own games.

A good example how rules can be bent, re-bent, and twisted is that of Damien Riehl, a musician who developed an algorithm to generate, copyright and then make every possible resulting melody free-usage public domain content, thereby also preventing future music from being copyrightable at all. In so doing he is using the system to break itself; and using patents as a way to free rather than protect intellectual property.

Now imagine what could happen hypothetically if someone does the same thing with future drug possibilities – mapping and making millions and millions of combinations of organic and inorganic molecules available for product development as public domain un-re-patentable formulas…

(Of course, trolling patent trolls is not the only solution. Harberger Taxes or market-driven copycat insurance are two other of many possible alternatives we experiment with to protect intellectual property, encourage innovation and reduce exploitative monopoly pricing. The point is: the future continually needs new solutions. When unintended consequences materialise, it’s time to re-write the rules of play.)

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