Why to Patent & When not to Patent?

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There has always been a debate on whether patenting is beneficial or harmful to the Society and the masses in general.While one can always analyse realms of data to argue either sides, what is most important is to look at “evidence on the ground” and decide whether Patenting is indeed beneficial and under what circumstances.

To provide some perspective, the Intellectual capability of a person which can be termed as ‘Intellectual Capital’ has always been respected right from the Guru Shishya (Master & Student) tradition whereby the Guru was respected & rewarded by Shishya mostly in kind by taking care of the Guru’s personal needs and running chores for him but the Guru was never provided with large financial benefits.

An analogy can be drawn with the current Education System in India, whereby Teachers have been by and large not adequately compensated for their knowledge & values inculcated in Students at an early age.

This has led to a parallel “Coaching Class” system, where the Student pays a much larger amount of money to the Coaching Class owners who are mostly Teachers to gain knowledge he or she is supposed to imbibe in School.

So one way of looking at it is the failure of the current Education system to adequately compensate Teachers and provided due respect by the entire Education system comprising of Students, Administrators & the Govt.

So ideally one can argue that Knowledge should be free and Intellectual Capital should be shared with one and all, the reality is the Intellectual Capital owner needs to be recognised and rewarded to thrive and benefit the Society.

For any Technology Innovator, the quest to get recognition in any form and acceptance of his or her idea by the mainstream public is the biggest challenge and incentive. At the same time, financial reward which will help the Innovator invest back in his or her work and enjoy the fruits of hard work & intellect is equally important although it may not be explicitly expressed by them.

A classic example of the same is the case of an eminent Scientist working with a leading Indian pharmaceutical company whereby he solved a tough chemistry problem posted on www.innocentive.com leading to a cash award of USD 75,000 and a plaque.

His employer took the stance that the Scientist used company’s time and resources to solve the problem so he has no right to claim the money which went into the company’s a/c and he was left only with a plaque!!

The Scientist was disillusioned by the treatment meted out by his Employer and the lack of recognition which prompted him to leave the company and join another competitor. So when a Patent is granted for solving a technology problem it does certify the competency of the Innovator for his Intellectual Capital but how it does benefit the Society and layman.

The most important benefit is the launch of a new product or process which improves the quality of lives of a certain segment of people in the Society which wouldn’t have been possible if there was no protection for inventions leading to new products & technology.

And directly related is the strong incentive to Scientists & Researchers who get an opportunity to be recognised as Inventors in the Patent and financial rewards shared by the organisation they work with directly improving their productivity manifold.

This is akin to the incentive enjoyed by Sales staff & Investment Bankers for bring new clients on board and closing deals.

Also it is very relevant in case of Govt. Research Labs where the technology commercialisation track record is extremely poor and the same can get tackled in part by encouraging developing new technologies, patenting the same and partnering with Industry for commercialising the same leading to a win-win scenario.

Another benefit which gets often over looked is avoiding duplication of creation of new knowledge which is the foundation for the patent system. In short “Do not reinvent the wheel” but use “the wheel to create new & useful products”.

Imagine, the kind of R&D money which is typically wasted to solve the same problem (For e.g. Biomass stove) but if there is a protocol which restricts development to ideas which are either patentable or works on existing patents, R&D productivity will shoot up exponentially and a lot more relevant products will hit the market shelves.

And from a consumer point of view, patented products are perceived as superior which also helps the Marketer brand the product and differentiate from spurious products in the market.

So to summarise, the key reasons to patent are -

  • Commercialisation of technology / product
  • Marketing differentiator
  • Recognition to the Inventors
  • Sharing of new knowledge to avoid “reinvention of the wheel” thereby exponentially improving R&D productivity
  • Improving enterprise value

And when “not to patent” -

  • No intention to commercialise idea
  • Do not want to directly make money from the idea

So as the debate rages on, the focus should be on commercialisation and the subsequent benefits for the Society which outweighs all other factors.

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