Protecting Patents

By Boland, Lois | Harvard International Review, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview
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Protecting Patents


Boland, Lois, Harvard International Review


In a recent article, ("Does One Size Fit All?: The International Patent Regime," Summer 2004) Graham Dutfield criticized international patent standard-setting efforts, contending that developing countries should be free to design individualized patent systems according to their respective levels of industrial and technological development. Underlying this argument is the author's view that patents hinder development and "imitation" is the most effective way to bridge the industry-technology gap between developing and developed countries.

Professor Dutfield's argument contradicts the underpinnings of the patent system, as well as history. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights expressly states that "[e]veryone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary, or artistic production of which he is the author." For over 200 years, the US patent system has encouraged inventors by rewarding their labors with exclusive rights for limited times. As US President Abraham Lincoln, an inventor himself, once said, "The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius." Patents helped to transform the United States from a largely agrarian society into an industrial power. Patent rights foster innovation by permitting an inventor to attract the necessary capital to bring the fruits of ingenuity to the marketplace. This translates into new products, new jobs, and even the birth of new industries. The economic reality is that there is little, if any, incentive to invest capital in new technologies if competitors can simply "copy" them immediately. Even Professor Dutfield admits that there is a direct correlation between strong patent protection and foreign direct investment, especially in certain industry sectors such as chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Moreover, the collective experience of many other countries demonstrates that innovation and investment are fostered through a strong and effective system of patent protection.

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