Out of Order: Patently absurd

Patents do not stifle innovation any more than copyright laws stifle creativity. In a similar vein, homeownership does not stifle homelessness, and marriage does not necessarily stifle infidelity.

Randall C Willis
The commentary you are reading right now, as well as anyother article you've read in this issue of ddn,is protected by a copyright owned by the publishers. My understanding is thatyou cannot reproduce this article in part or in whole without permission ofthose same publishers. (They're really nice guys, however, so I'm sure theywon't hassle you if you want to give ddncredit. Please ask, though.) 
 
According to some people, I have just committed an atrocitythat stifles creativity and hoards all of the "glory" (??) for my publishersand myself. It is their contention that copyright law keeps them from usingsimilar words in a similar context to spread a similar message and forces themto fly into the uncharted territory of the novel, unique, different. How unfairis that?
 
Oh, wait. Did I say copyright? I meant patent.
 
And I didn't mean creativity. I meant innovation.
 
 
Let me state this as bluntly as possible: Patents do notstifle innovation any more than copyright laws stifle creativity. In a similarvein, homeownership does not stifle homelessness, and marriage does notnecessarily stifle infidelity, but I'm off-point.
 
Patents ensure the people who put in the time and effort toachieve success are rewarded for that effort, and thereby encourage them to go backto the chalkboard to develop the next big thing. But just as importantly,patents prevent others from reaping all of the benefits of someone else'sendeavors without doing any of the hard/expensive groundwork.
Perhaps I'm being a little strenuous in my definitions, butI don't see how synthesizing the same active ingredient into roughly the sameformulation is considered innovation. Yes, you can argue that they can do itless expensively, but of course it's less expensive. They didn't have to payall the initial start-up costs.
 
 
You want to be innovative? Come up with a new mode ofaction. Reduce the side effect profile or increase tolerability. Treat thedisease earlier in its pathology, or prevent the condition from startingaltogether. I appreciate that's not easy. It's not supposed to be … lest it notbe innovative.
 
 
For all the buzz in the marketplace over the word innovationand the concept of a company being innovative (who ever describes themselves as"same-old, same-old?"), few want to pay the price for innovation.
 
 
Or more accurately, few want to take a risk oninnovation—real innovation. The primary thing that stifles innovation is fear.Innovation is scary. It's supposed to be. If you're comfortable with yourachievement, it's probably not all that innovative. That's the whole point.Fear is the killer.
 
 
For medical researchers in academia, it's the fear of movingoutside of the accepted sphere of knowledge; fear of not getting their nextgrant, which is often reviewed by people with a strong reason to support theaccepted way of doing things.
 
For companies, it is the fear of spending all of that timeand money on something that may ultimately fail. The exceptions to this are themaverick startups that have little to lose and end up being fodder for industrygiants whose pipelines dry up (how ironic).
For medical practitioners, it is the fear of admitting theydon't have all of the answers and taking the time to learn something outside ofthe status quo—a status quo that many of them helped establish. The exceptionsinclude oncologists who still sit at the forefront of exploratory and anecdotalmedicine—people who essentially initiate a clinical trial with each newpatient.
 
 
For consumers and patient communities, it is the fear ofbeing guinea pigs for new therapeutic concepts, mistaking novel for untested.Again, the prototypical exception is found in cancer patients who can bedesperate enough to try anything that offers them a chance.
 
 
But probably the biggest source of fear that stiflesinnovation is the corporate investor, the stockholder who demands his or herpromised 5-, 10-, 15- or 20-percent return on investment. Fail in your attemptto be innovative, and watch your investment well dry up. Hell, even whisperthat you're thinking about—let alone going to try—something new, and watchpeople move their money to a supposedly safer haven.
 
 
Now if somebody can come up with a cure for theshortsightedness of the markets, that would be truly innovative. In themeantime, pass me the tried-and-true anti-anxiety meds and let me slide backinto my rut where I may not be happy, but at least I'm comfortable.
 
P.S. I probably read the title to this commentary somewhereelse, so I'd like to apologize to the original author and hope he or shedoesn't sue me for copyright infringement.
 
Formerly the executive editor of ddn, Willis has worked at both ends of the pharmaceutical industry,from basic research to marketing, and has written about biomedical science foralmost two decades.
 

Randall C Willis

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