100 years ago the Wright brothers were granted a patent for a flying machine – a patent that turned out to include almost every man-made vehicle that could fly. A few years earlier Guglielmo Marconi was granted a patent on radio waves. It’s needless to say how these patents obstructed further research and development. Regarding the airplane-patent, the US government made a short process in 1917, with the World War I underway. Marconi’s patent on radio waves was claimed invalid by the US Supreme Court in 1943.
Unfortunately we doesn’t seem to have learned much from the last century’s patent stupidities. Until recently, it was not possible to patent living organisms, which were regarded as discoveries of nature and therefore unpatentable. In 1980, however, this all changed. The US Supreme Cour ruled that a living organism, a bacterium that could digest oil, could be patented. Today we have lots of patents on life: on plants, animals, genes and smaller parts of DNA.
Patents on medicines is another sad story, causing the deaths of poor people each day. Those who defend pharmaceutical patents, argue that the research of new medicines is so expensive that the pharmaceutical companies need their patents to survive. The question to ask here is if patenting is the only way to raise money for medical research? Today it’s already the public sector that pays for the bulk of drugs used in Europe, thanks to various systems for universal medical coverage. So today it’s (at least in most European countries) already the government who pay for most of the medical research (by buying patented medicines). What if the government instead could fund the pharmaceutical research directly, with the clause that the results must be made freely available? This idea is promoted by the swedish Pirate Party.