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Patents: an obstacle to innovation

How many patents a state or company has obtained is no longer a good indicator of development or innovation – if it was ever. However, some “experts” still try to claim that “the more patents, the better” or “no patents mean no innovation”. Real life, however, shows precisely the opposite.

Why are patents a problem? 

There are five large patent corporations worldwide: The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the European Patent Office (EPO), and three Asian patent offices. However, there has never been a uniform methodology for granting patents, and moreover, this “trademark system” is only a barrier to the free market and a government-sponsored monopoly tool.

For example, in pharmaceutical production, this approach only limits the production capacities for essential medicines and causes a manifold increase in their prices. A shining example is the COVID-19 vaccine, which could only be produced by vaccine developers and several licensed partners because of pharmaceutical patents. Vaccinating the global population has therefore been much slower and more expensive because of these restrictions. If the drug and vaccine patents had been released, we could have prevented the spread of later Covid variants. As such, patents can hardly be said to bring any societal benefits.

The US patents. Europe innovates.

While European legislation on granting patents is rather strict, you can patent basically anything in the US. The European Patent Office (EPO) only grants patents to those who have invented a new technical solution to a problem which was not obvious using existing technology. On the other hand, the USA (USPTO) is willing to patent any curiosity. A somewhat amusing example is a 2001 patent for a beerbrella. It is essentially a small umbrella or parasol meant to shield a beer bottle or can from direct sunlight. There are countless similar examples, which makes measuring innovativeness through patents utterly absurd.

On the other hand, Europe has many small IT companies and tech start-ups from various fields – from environmental innovation in agriculture to waste recycling. However, none of them is even considering applying for patents. The future of our information society does not lie in big corporations strangling competition with an ever-growing range of trivial, broad patents; instead, it is about sharing information and know-how.

We need to replace patents with an alternative system of innovation support.

From a long-term perspective, we need to create an alternative system of innovation support to replace patents and ensure that research will be used to benefit society, not rich corporations. Patenting knowledge in genetics, biotechnology, or software presents a tangible threat to our society’s future. We must replace monopolies with an approach that leads to a freer and more just market instead of suppressing innovation further.

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