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A popular current debate - do patents drive or stifle innovation. What do you think?

Commentary by Martin Smith, Luvata Group Director of Operational Risk Management & IPR Administration Director

88% of voter’s opinion that patent laws “stifle” inventiveness, to me, shows a real cause for concern that we are not supporting our inventors sufficiently. However without some form of protection, new successful products in the market place will be “reverse engineered” by pirates, and cheap copies rapidly appear to soak up any rewards.

The original "Letters Patent", granted in the 16th century, were never intended to "drive" the process of invention, merely to protect the interests of inventors and investors. In 1624 the first laws were passed in Britain to curb monopolies, but also protect the rights of the inventor.

Letters Patent are "open letters"; the invention is described in minute detail for all to read. To paraphrase Jacque Fresco “There are no great men, just men standing on the shoulders of other men and what they have done.” Inventors need the stimulation of ideas and solutions provided by others, which they evolve and combine into novel inventions.

Most inventions these days are not created by a man working alone in a garden shed (though happily some of these still exist). The vast majority requires a team of scientists and engineers, working with cutting edge equipment and lots of money provided by investors who, rightly, want to see a return in keeping with their risk. Manufacturers of new products needing to invest in new machinery must have some guarantee of a return on their investment as well.

It is well argued that many drugs and modern devices, we rely on today, would not have been invented without the protection afforded by patents to investors. Though it is not all good, there have been missuses of patent law, for example; preventing good inventions from coming to market to protect old investments or laying “patent minefields”.

In my experience, and fortunately for humankind, inventors are not often fundamentally driven by the desire to make money and are not put off by the patent system or even exploitation.  Inventing things is what they love to do.



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