Friday, November 25, 2005

More on Patents

Just flipped through a copy of Chem & Eng News (chem-geek dead-tree) and they had an article on patent reform going through the motions in Washington at the moment (Susan R. Morrissey, C&EN Washington Chemical & Engineering News, 83(36), September 5, 2005).
The idea I had in my last post about a 'no harm, no foul' sort of licensing scheme was mentioned and apparantly it's called an 'injunction relief'. This is being put forward as an option but it seems as though there are two camps lobbying like madmen:
  1. the computer/software industry wants injunction relief, probably for the reasons i outlined last time
  2. the traditional chemical and pharmaceutical industries see injunction relief as death-on-a-stick
I suppose the arguments revolve on how long it takes to recoup your investment, moving atoms around is a lot more time-intensive than bits.
It does seem to point to an interesting problem in patents: real world stuff vs virtual world stuff.
Could you design a system where the length of time the right to monopolise something is actually something you'd have to prove as reasonable within the application? i.e. a single click purchase idea in Amazon is clever, can be built (i assume) within a few days using tools readily available and hence a reasonable time for monopoly would be say, 12 months. If you can't capitalise on that with your UX in that time, you're screwed regardless and the idea can be quicly spread (copyright on your particular code would still apply, i'm talking back-engineering here). Contrast that with a drug that took a decade to develop and hundreds of millions of dollars to get through clinical trials, you'd need a 20 year timeframe to recoup that kind of investment (and the dead-ends that it is subsidysing, back-engineering a chemical structure isn't that hard, it's finding the structure that works in the first place that is difficult).
Don't know, but wish i knew a patent attourney so i could have a few beers...

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