Sunday, October 31, 2010

How easy it is to intimidate scientists with patent-related legal threats! Andre Geim, a 2010 Nobel laureate in physics, somebody who defied authority and common wisdom in his own field, believed empty talk served to him by a corporate lawyer. Here's an excerpt from Geim's interview to the Nature magazine:

Q: You haven't yet patented graphene. Why is that?

A: We considered patenting; we prepared a patent and it was nearly filed. Then I had an interaction with a big, multinational electronics company. I approached a guy at a conference and said, "We've got this patent coming up, would you be interested in sponsoring it over the years?" It's quite expensive to keep a patent alive for 20 years. The guy told me, "We are looking at graphene, and it might have a future in the long term. If after ten years we find it's really as good as it promises, we will put a hundred patent lawyers on it to write a hundred patents a day, and you will spend the rest of your life, and the gross domestic product of your little island, suing us." That's a direct quote.

I considered this arrogant comment, and I realized how useful it was. There was no point in patenting graphene at that stage. You need to be specific: you need to have a specific application and an industrial partner. Unfortunately, in many countries, including this one, people think that applying for a patent is an achievement. In my case it would have been a waste of taxpayers' money.

First, had the university got the patent and licensed the seminal invention of graphene to the industry, taxpayers would definitely get a great return on their investment into public eduction.
Second, putting hundred patent lawyers writing a hundred patent applications a day ten years after the original invention is an extremely expensive and totally useless strategy. There's no budget for that even in richest global corporations. It's cheaper to license the technology than to fight competition in courts for years. The phrase about hundred lawyers is an empty threat used to intimidate, not reason.
Third, over ten years, a lot of prior art will be created. Patenting over it would be difficult, especially so, if the rest of the world is aware of the idea's importance.

As I wrote before, engineers and scientist know very little about inventions and patents. There's no systematic education on the subject in any of university courses. No wonder, you can intimidate even the best and the brightest with empty legal threats.

tags: technology, patent, strategy, startup, law, information, education

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