Patent can be defined as a set of exclusive rights granted by a government authority to an inventor or innovator for defined period of time, during this period other people are excluded from using, creating and or selling a similar product or invention.
Patents are taken to protect intellectual property. This article aims to provide a brief overview on patents. Moreover the article raises some issues why patents are not good for innovation. The idea of patents can be traced as far back as the Ancient Greek era during the 14th Century. However, in modern history the first law and patent was issued in the United States of America in the 17th century.
The idea behind patents was to encourage more inventions and innovations by protecting or securing them from possible infringers for a defined period of time. This made a lot sense in the 17th century when innovation and technology was happening at a very slow pace. Nevertheless, patents still make sense in some industries, such as medical discoveries and pharmaceuticals. Today a lot of issues are being raised in academia on the impacts of patents in innovation at universities, universities claim that they need patents to secure their ideas, prototypes and inventions. Furthermore, people in academia argue that revenue generated from patents and licenses can be used to further fund their research activities. These are fair claims but one can counter this argument by raising another question; should universities make profits from inventions and research funded using taxpayers money? Today, patents are being used for the wrong reasons such as holding back competitors thus halting innovation.
This is evident in the patent wars between Apple and Samsung, where instead of focusing on innovation, the two largest manufacturers of smartphones are investing huge resources in patent wars instead of investing in the advancements of their respective products. Therefore, provide the customer with more functionalities and better value for their money. Instead of fighting each other over patents, innovators can make the innovation ecosystem thrive by building on top of each other’s’ ideas.
Additionally, innovation requires innovators and companies to continue reinventing themselves. Therefore adapting to the changing times. Another issue facing patents today, is the lengthy time it takes for a patent to be awarded.
At the exponential speed at which technology is advancing, patents are becoming more and more irrelevant because by the time the patent is awarded, your innovation or invention has become obsolete and outdated. However, despite the present realities on the ground, many especially in the field of academia still believes in the concept of patents. They claim that if correctly used, patents can play an effective role in technology transfer. One can say patents are useful when they deliver real value to the customers by getting the customers to use the invention or innovation. This leads me to ask an important question that has been asked by many, do patents really deliver inventions and innovations to the people?
Nevertheless, on what the answer is, current trends are showing us that patents are no longer as relevant in fostering innovations and inventions as they were 50 years ago. Furthermore, it is very infrequent to find an innovation or invention that is very unique and needs to be secured. If your product, solution or invention is unique, one can secure it through copyright laws. Thus no need for a patent. Other than imposing restrictions, patents are not helping our society in any way and neither are they helping foster innovation.
Innovation is all about building on top of each other’s ideas to create solutions that are solving problems facing man kind. Thus, as we embark on an innovation journey in Namibia, we should embrace open innovation, where as innovators we built on top of each other’s ideas to develop the possible solutions for our people.
*Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.Hons: Software Development (Cum Laude) and currently pursuing MSc. Computer Science