Top 10 Non-Patent Contributions Made by Patents

This is written from the perspective of a UK-based European Patent attorney.  Apologies for my ignorance of contributions in other territories.

  1. Ethics in Biotech. Patents for biotech inventions have stimulated debate on the ethics of biotechnology. Issues such as the suffering of animal models and the embryo origins of stem cells have had to be confronted.  The European Patent Office has handled this well and in a business-like way, but the European Parliament has had a more turbulent time.
  2. Purposive Construction of Laws. The UK House of Lords decision in Catnic introduced the concept of purposive construction of patent claims.  This helped to make it acceptable to interpret UK legislation with a view to the original purpose behind it.
  3. The EPO as a Model for European Cooperation.  The European Patent Convention and European Patent Office were early models for how European countries could work together to create trans-national legislation and institutions.
  4. The Theory of the Commons.  As intellectual property, patents represent something taken from the ‘commons’, and so the regulation of this monopoly right stimulates debate as to which monopolies are fair (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_anticommons).
  5. The Personality of the Patent Attorney.  Our profession is (generally) conservative, clean-living, attentive to the details, cautious and responsible.
  6. Translation Software.  Patents provide an incentive to reduce the costs for translating technical/scientific documents by developing software capable of doing this.
  7. How do we have ideas? The concept of inventorship has raised questions of how ideas and creativity are generated and how many individuals are involved.  Is the concept of a ‘sole inventor’ a myth?
  8. What is art? Patents and other forms of IP constantly raise questions about what can be protected and what cannot.  There is, we believe, some level of philosophical enrichment of society when the issues of whether recipes, software or the laws of nature are inventions or artistic works are debated.
  9. Economic Theory. Economics has been enriched by the analysis of how patents do and don’t contribute to the well-being and progress of society.
  10. ‘The Poor Man’s Tale of a Patent’.  Charles Dickens’ story on the frustrations of using the patent system.
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