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What IBM, Apple, and Pharmaceutical Giants Could Learn From Andre Konstantinovich Geim

Andre Geim
Photo from Prolineserver

Summary: A Nobel Prize winner, professor Geim, joins the ranks of many people in his level whose thoughts about patents are very rational and progressive

Professor Andre Konstantinovich Geim earned the Nobel Prize at a very young age. I am inspired by him and am especially proud of his achievement because Geim -- like myself -- comes from the University of Manchester. When I did my Ph.D. there, my supervisor who holds an OBE was supportive of the fact that I shared all my code and never used proprietary software other than MATLAB (in order to interact and inter-operable with colleagues). It worked extremely well for me.

Geim has made some spectacular invention and he, unlike some in his field, chose to turn his back on patents. To quote a new Andre Geim interview with Nature: [via]

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.

We recently commented on the attitude towards patents in Nature.

Geim should not be ridiculed for his views, quite the contrary in fact. The Wall Street Journal has this new article titled "The Genius of the Tinkerer" and it says that "ideas are works of bricolage. They are, almost inevitably, networks of other ideas. We take the ideas we've inherited or stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape."

In the field of computer technology, IBM and Apple are believed to be most innovative, at least when people are asked on the issue (some people may also name Google). But people must be confusing hype and patents with actual innovation, which need not be accompanied by any patents at all, just a very good product or experimental results (execution of ideas, not documentation or monopolisation).

According to this new post, IBM continues to file for absolutely sickening patents:

IBM Patents Dividing The Number 60 By Your Car's Speed

theodp writes ""A billboard," IBM explains to the USPTO in its newly granted patent for Determining Billboard Refresh Rate Based on Traffic Flow, "is a large outdoor advertisement." Guess you have to pad your writing a bit when a cornerstone of your 'invention' is dividing the number 60 by the speed of a car (in mph). To be fair, Big Blue explains things this way in the patent: "A system for determining the refresh rate per minute of the dynamic billboard based on the traffic flow information, wherein the refresh rate is equal to 60 mph/V, wherein V is equal to an average velocity in miles per hour of vehicles passing the dynamic billboard. If the average velocity is 60 mph, the new refresh rate of the dynamic billboard is one refresh per minute (i.e., each advertisement is displayed for one minute), while if the average velocity is 10 mph, the new refresh rate of the dynamic billboard is six refreshes per minute (i.e., each advertisement is displayed for ten seconds)." Which begs a question: Will you see an infinite number of ads if traffic comes to a full stop?"

Last week Apple received an opportunity to learn a lesson about software patents and why they should be avoided. Well, even more reminders are sent Apple's way now that it is ordered to pay 0.6 billion US dollars just for Cover Flow. What is Apple's crime here really? One can almost sympathise but also hope that Apple will learn its lessons from this and drop its lawsuit against Linux (legal action via HTC).

The New York Times (NYT) has this new article which helps show just how dependent pharmaceutical giants are on patents for profit reasons, not for research reasons. Last year we wrote several posts to explain that excess profits at pharmaceutical companies contribute almost nothing towards the making of better drugs. Their patents too should be abolished according to some intellectuals. There are better ways of producing medicine while also serving the population.

These are challenging times for Eli Lilly, the company he leads. It is losing patent protection in the next seven years on drugs that accounted for 74 percent of its sales in 2009, a decline considered to be the worst patent cliff facing major companies in the industry.

So what? They can still make new drugs, just not rely on obscene profit margins and exclusion of generics, which results in easily-preventable deaths. The title from the NYT is "Patents Ending, Eli Lilly Chases New Drugs" and it's all just a sob story which describes patents as "patent protection" rather than "patent monopoly". As Mike Masnick puts it, "Eli Lilly's Reliance On Patents May Be Its Downfall" and here is an important point:

Because the patents on the drugs that make up most of its revenue are all set to expire soon, and their pipeline of newly patented drugs is pretty far behind.

Science does not really need patents all that much. Historically, patents were an award to encourage a person to publish ideas rather than die with trade secrets. In these days and age of the Internet, the same rationale is hardly applicable anymore and the same goes for copyrights. Reform seems inevitable, even though the Old Guard may delay it for a few more years.

Patents mean not to share. Patents are a monopoly. Are monopolies a good thing all of a sudden?

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