Monday, October 8, 2012

Patents in Relation to Intellectual Property Rights

The debate surrounding intellectual property, and its rights, is a fascinating one. It was not until the late 18th century that the term "intellectual property" even began to be used, and it was late in the 20th century before the term became common place. Now, just a few logistical points, intellectual property is subdivided into two categories: Industrial property and Copyright. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, Industrial property includes, but is not limited to patents, trademarks, and industrial designs. Whereas, Copyright generally refers to literary and artistic works such as plays, novels, and musical works. While all these definitions are beneficial to some extent, the question of whether or not they are relevant and important, needs to be asked. And, in short, my answer would be, yes.

As I see it, the biggest issue people have with the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights, is that IP is intangible. But, the key phrase in IP rights is the word “rights” itself. Just like the inalienable rights that are protected within the Bill of Rights, IP should be protected in a similar way. Of course the Bill of Rights is much more important than simply just IP, but I fear that if IP does not continue to be protected, entrepreneurs will lose interest in our country.  

Ideas are some of the most important things a society contains. In fact, Entrepreneurship is one of the key factors of production in any society. And, what makes entrepreneur’s so incredible is that they take some abstract idea floating around in their head, and bring it to fruition. Now, one of the key steps in that process is being granted a patent or copyright for whatever item, system, or process they have created. Patents are a form of protection that is provided to innovators of all types. Basically, patents allow any inventor to seek legal recourse against someone who wishes to steal their idea. This provides an excellent incentive for those who are willing to take a risk on an idea. Without patents, our country wouldn’t be where it is today. However, that being said, I do feel that the current patent system should be revamped.

In modern society, patents are overused and abused. In 2010, over 500,000 patents were filed. It is estimated however, that over ten percent of all patents issued are completely worthless from the time they are issued. That means either the invention they protect doesn’t function as stated, or a similar invention already exists, but was not found. In fact, only about two percent of all patents issued bring any sort of monetary returns to the recipient. Several large corporations have earned the nickname “patent troll,” in that they seek only to hoard patents and use them to gain money through the legal system. So, bearing that in mind, it is obvious that something needs to be done with the patent system.

While it may seem that patents are as useless as what they protect (IP), this is not the case. For those individuals who actually are innovating, and need protection, patents are great. I however believe that patents should be more costly to obtain. This would weed out a lot of individuals who don’t have good ideas. And the rest would need to search for investors to provide financial stability. Chances are if a group of investors is willing to back your idea, then it is legitimate, and worthy of a patent. All these efforts would reduce the backlog in the patent office, and bring important technologies to the market faster. Also, by not removing the patent system completely, a large portion of potential entrepreneurs would not be alienated.

IP rights can be justified simply on the basis of economic sensibility. Without them, our economy would look much different than it currently does.

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