Quantcast
Latest Stories

MAPping the Future

How patents slow down the pace of technological innovation

By

The recent guilty verdict against the Korean electronics giant Samsung for infringement of patents held by archrival Apple has re-ignited a longstanding debate on the role of patents in promoting technological innovation.

The traditional view is that patents encourage creative and innovative work by giving inventors exclusive (i.e., monopoly) rights to their inventions for specified periods of time.

An implicit assumption in this view is that the patent system is an important factor in promoting technological development.

A contrary perspective holds that the incentives provided by patent rights have been grossly exaggerated, and that the social costs associated with them have been largely ignored.

More significantly, this emergent view contends that patents hinder rather than hasten the pace of technological innovation.

Are patents essential?

Let us examine closely the role and usefulness of patents in the context of the current legal tussle between Apple and Samsung.

There is no question whatsoever that Apple—with market cap of $624 billion and counting—dominates both the smartphone and tablet markets.

There is also little doubt that the features that Samsung allegedly copied, notably the “bounce back” and zoom features, are Apple’s original inventions.

And of course, Apple holds the patents to these innovations.

And yes, Samsung is most likely guilty of patent infringement.

The question I pose is this: Have patents been an important factor in Apple’s or, for that matter, IBM’s, or P&G’s, or Pfizer’s market leadership in their respective industries?

The obvious knee-jerk answer of many of us is “Yes,” but an increasing number of doubters like myself are more prone to answer “No.”

Here’s why.

The reason that Apple has been leading the way in consumer electronics and communications technology is NOT that it holds patents to all the glitzy products launched by its venerated and erstwhile CEO, the legendary Steve Jobs.

It is number one in its field mainly because of its unique organizational culture in which everybody—from the CEO down to the lowest technical, marketing and administrative personnel—is single-mindedly focused on getting the job done right and on time.

Of course, Apple implemented other strategies as well to outwit is competitors, such as company secrecy, of which Apple is notorious, and lead time, getting to market ahead of everybody else.

Moreover, for Apple and many other companies, innovative product features and production process are uniquely custom-tailored and specific to the firm’s product line and operations and are of little value to anybody else.

There is little need, therefore, in having these patented.

Contrary to a commonly held belief, the patent system has been a major factor in slowing down the pace of technological innovation and industrial development.

Take for example the Watt-Boulton steam engine, acknowledged to be the invention that propelled the Industrial Revolution.

Truth of the matter is that this invention has actually prevented the Industrial Revolution from progressing at an even faster rate.

James Watt, who had many friends in Parliament, managed to have the patent (or more correctly, patents) to his invention extended many times, and for over 75 years was the only readily available source of power to run factories in both the old and the new worlds.

It has become what is now known as the dominant design despite the existence of several more efficient, less cumbersome, less costly, and certainly far technically superior designs, which were all held at bay and unable to compete with the heavily patented and legally protected Watt-Boulton steam engine.

Other relatively inferior products that have become dominant designs due to the patent system are the internal combustion engine, which most industrial engineers consider to be less efficient and less versatile than the effectively sidelined external combustion engine, and the Windows Operating System, which many consider to be inferior in many respects to Linux.

Other products that prevailed over their technically superior counterparts but for other reasons are the VHS recording system and the QWERTY keyboard.

To my mind, the only purpose that patents serve Apple and thousands of other patent holders is to effectively prevent their competitors from actively participating in the common quest for better and more useful products and services.

The biggest losers are their customers who are left with fewer products and services to choose from.

Hindering collaboration

By limiting access to individual ideas, patents effectively inhibit the communal effort that is needed in order to achieve their full potential value. In the fast-paced, knowledge-driven and highly interconnected world, novel ideas and inventions tend to have very short shelf lives.

Capturing economic value from these inventions within a reasonably short period of time requires the collective effort of a large network of players who must have free access to one another’s ideas and information.   Patenting effectively precludes such a collaborative effort.

Software developers have long realized that coming up with highly sophisticated applications software to drive today’s economy and society requires the extensive collaboration among like-minded communities of practice and interest.

Perhaps we should follow their lead in advocating that all inventions, just like software, should not be patentable.

We have entered the new world of open innovation. In this information-driven world, patents have become an anachronism.

(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is a former professor of management in UP Mindanao. Feedback at map@globelines.com.ph. For previous articles, visit map.org.ph.)


Follow Us


Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Apple , patents technology , samsung , technological innovation

  • Yxon

    I THINK YOU JUST COULD NOT NEGATE THE MILLIONS (BILLIONS?) SPENT BY APPLE TO DEVELOP A CERTAIN TECHNOLOGY. 
    YOUR PROPOSAL, MAY EVEN RETARD DEVELOPMENT; IF THERE IS NO PATENTING.  NO ONE WILL INVEST ON RESEARCH ANYMORE TO DEVELOP TECHNOLOGY, AS THIS WOULD JUST BE GRABBED BY A BYSTANDER WHO HAD NOT SPENT A CENT.  THIS IS WHY THE CHINESE COULD MAKE THEIR PRODUCTS A FAR LEAST COST (EVEN ON A FAR INFERIOR QUALITY) BECAUSE THEY JUST COPY AND HAVE NO RESPECT FOR ANY PATENT OR EVEN BRANDS.



Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
Advertisement

News

  • Pakistan library named ‘bin Laden,’ as memory fades
  • US teacher fired over comment on black president
  • Magnitude-7.5 earthquake shakes Mexican capital
  • Title of new Hillary Clinton book: ‘Hard Choices’
  • Filipinos, Dutch re-enact crucifixion of Christ
  • Sports

  • Nadal ousted by Ferrer in Monte Carlo quarters
  • Pacquiao shorts in Bradley fight sold for P1.7M in LA auction
  • Ryu pitches Dodgers past Giants
  • Alonso sets the pace in Chinese GP practice
  • Heat seek Three-peat but Spurs, Pacers top seeds
  • Lifestyle

  • Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87
  • Ford Mustang turns 50 atop Empire State Building
  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • Entertainment

  • Myx TV premieres Asian American ‘docu-series’
  • A nutty finale for ‘Scandal,’ TV’s craziest show
  • EXO postpones release of mini album ‘Overdose’
  • ‘X-men’ filmmaker slams ‘fabricated’ sex attack claims
  • Singer Chris Brown’s bodyguard on trial in DC
  • Business

  • US commerce secretary spells out economic facet of ‘pivot to Asia’
  • Italy sells luxury state cars on eBay
  • Asian shares mostly up in quiet trade
  • Dollar up in Asia on US jobs data, Ukraine deal
  • Barbie doll has a problem
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • Multicultural flock marks Good Friday in San Francisco
  • Las Vegas ‘Pinoy Pride’ fest hails Filipino heritage
  • Marking Jesus’ journey on Good Friday
  • Filipina accomplice arrested for fake bills in Malaysia
  • DoH denies Filipino nurse no longer positive for MERS virus
  • Marketplace