Patents and Scientific Research: Five Paradoxical Scenarios

Patents and Scientific Research: Five Paradoxical Scenarios

Sulan Wong (Universidad Católica de Temuco, Chile)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8057-7.ch033
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It is argued that patents encourage scientific development, benefiting society by creating useful products and services that improve the quality of life. However, by granting exclusive rights of exploitation, patents create situations in which they interfere with the exercise of the freedom of scientific research. This work examines five scenarios where this problem can be seen and the utilitarian function of patents is questioned. Firstly, the effects of research funding in the definition of the lines and research objectives are observed. Secondly, the anticommons is studied, as it is a situation where excessive fragmentation of ownership in scientific knowledge may prevent its use. Thirdly, broad patents and their implications are examined. Fourthly, the deterrent power of patent litigation, which creates an unexpected business model, is analyzed. Fifthly, secrecy is looked upon, as it is encouraged by the logic in which the patent system works.
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Independently of the domain, scientific research “economics” includes a series of expenditures to completely fulfill the objectives of a research project. Any project will require the acquisition of books, journals, equipment and supplies, the payment of wages, travel expenses and institutional overheads. For any researcher willing to carry on his line of research, the logical question would be “where do I find the required economic resources?” Thus, the long pilgrimage of researchers and research institutions begins.

Not all universities or research centers have the same infrastructure and budget to execute research projects proposed by their researchers, so lines of research are carefully selected. Nevertheless, belonging to one of the selected lines of research does not ensure financial support of a researcher’s project. In some domains of science, competition for funding can be so frustrating that researchers feel their peers systematically shun them out. Even if funded, the amount assigned to a research project delimits a hard boundary to its scope. Furthermore, competition is also increased by research teams that belong to the industrial sector, more focused in “products” that could be profitable and, therefore, more attractive to investment1.

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