TED Conversations

Goodness Ugwumba Opara

This conversation is closed.

What do you think of a world without patents?

The benefits of open innovation are undoubtedly clear, especially for the human race at large. We have seen the potent power of a lot of people working on an idea to speed up innovation in various fields. Yet one wonders how a company can survive without protecting its intellectual property.

Given that we have all benefited and continue to benefit from inventions of other humans across the world, and that humanity will as a whole will grow faster if people were free to take any idea from anywhere and make it better, build upon it; what do you think the future holds for patents?

Do we all owe it to the world to share our ideas freely, just as we have benefited immeasurably from ideas of people we'll never meet?

Share:

Closing Statement from Goodness Ugwumba Opara

I’d like to thank all of you for taking out time to make your very stimulating views heard. In addition, I’d say the following:
a. For those that believe innovators won't find funding for their research (if patents became a thing of the past), consider the recent trends in crowd funding. I believe that people will fund ideas they believe in, perhaps much better than the current system that relies on investors. I think this is possible for even the biggest and most expensive research projects.
b. Mr McGuinness, yes the world can be cruel, but we have repeatedly seen people’s willingness to extend a helping hand. Thanks so much for your input.
c. To Joel Harrison: perhaps the most important reason why you could carry out your research in the first place is that you were able to drink from the common cup of the knowledge of all humanity.
d. Thanks Juan Donado, but permit me to politely suggest that its not that simple. Yes it is probable that research funds from investors would cease, but I daresay other sources (crowd funding for example) will begin to take center stage; and on the second point, I think your idea is not yours alone. You are where you are today because you have benefited (perhaps more than you realize) from ideas from other people, that were improved by other people still. Nor does it mean that innovators will no longer benefit from their ideas, work, etc. I think it’s fair to say that patents have run their course; it’s time for something new and better, something better suited to the needs of a new era. The details have to be worked out though.
e. That’s a stimulating idea Bart HSI. Thanks for sharing.
f. Thanks Mr Tropp, yet I think copycats will remain copycats, and the innovators will get even greater honour and recognition for their work, and perhaps even more money, it all depends on how it’s organized. Consider that we will never forget the Wright brothers. Thanks for your time.
Lonita Minhea, Jennell Lewis, Krisztián Pintér, everyone, thank u

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Aug 15 2013: for example in the 1600's, people invented a lot of things, and there were no patents. it is a myth that patents are necessary for innovation. it is similar to saying that grains are necessary for nutrition. granted, grains were and are a staple food many places all around the globe, but their elimination would not suddenly end mankind, it would just lead to different eating habits. the world without patents would be most certainly different, but not unworkable, nor disastrous.

    we would see much less huge companies pushing new products. we would possibly see more small firms, and distributed means of research. there could be more research done by funds, universities or the crowd. or possibly joint ventures combining the might of leading companies within an industry.

    we would also see less money earned directly from innovation, but rather the installation of new technologies. everyone understands that being the first is important, so installers of technology would innovate as an extra advantage on the market.

    another difference would be in favor of the developing world. without patents, any small farmers and manufacturers anywhere could immediately benefit from new technologies. also they would benefit from new medicines.

    the more one thinks about it, the more appealing this idea gets. monsanto loses, african farmers win. big pharma loses, average indian wins. corporations lose, universities win. it is hard for me to shed a tear, honestly.
    • Aug 15 2013: For a start, compare the modern rate of invention to the 1600's. There is no real comparison to be made, as the difference is in orders of magnitude. There are many reasons, but one of them which fits into this argument is the amount of people trained and working in science and engineering.
      In the 1600's (and significantly later than that), the only way a scientist or engineer could fund any real project is through the patronage of a noblemen. If you didn't have a noblemen, you didn't have funding, it was as simple as that.
      Today, we don't have noblemen keeping court scientists alongside the jesters, we have corporate funding.

      Without patents, you don't have corporate funding anymore unless a project promises to be hugely profitable simply on the merit of getting it first. Problem is, given how much faster and cheaper it is for the competition to reverse-engineer your products than it took you to develop them, that head start needs to go a long way. So long in fact, that for the vast majority of projects, it won't be anywhere near enough to churn a decent profit.
      Just like that, no more corporate funding. No more money in research and development.

      You could try to raise research grants through charity I suppose, but good luck scoring any real sum that way (by corporate standards anyway).
      Government funding comes with its own problems. You'll be hamstrung by politics, and chances are, governments will be even less keen to share than corporations.

      The patent system has its drawbacks, but its not there for the corporation's sake. Its there to promote innovation, and it does so quite well.
      I don't care how idealistic you are, you've still got to pay the bills at the end of the month. If there's no money in it, people will move on to doing different things, and scientists and engineers are no exception.
      • thumb
        Aug 15 2013: for start, compare the gdp per capita in 1600 and today.

        the rest of your post is claims. i already dismissed these as myths.
        • thumb
          Aug 16 2013: I'm a science teacher, virtually every significant discovery I can think of in the pre- capitalist era was financed either by the King or the church. In fact I can't even think of one that wasn't. The scientist is a slave to someones desire for glory. It used to be King's and churches, then it was patriotic endevour, now its the glory of wealth. But you're right eliminating patents won't make much difference, we would just go back to the era of secret knowledge.
        • thumb
          Aug 16 2013: As being a disciple of Austrian Economics yourself, I expected you to be less harsh on claims and myth in general by now, just by being used to it...

          Yet seeing you being harsh on the claims and myths of others may just be explained by the ancient drive of territorial affected behavior ... :o)

          And no, I am not just fooling around here, I simply mean it...;o)

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.