In the great tradition of UK debating societies, ESOF’s Science to Business programme offers a structured, pro and con debate on one of the most contentious issues in innovation: Are patents good or bad for society?
Patents have been with us since the 17th century, as the primary way to protect intellectual property. In exchange for disclosing one’s invention, the state grants a limited, legal monopoly over exploitation. So far, so simple – and it’s on that basis that most major technologies of the past few hundred years have evolved, from the steam locomotive to gene-splicing. Stevenson, Marconi, Edison and countless other inventors have all benefited from this system.
But in the past generation, the voices of dissent have been rising. Legal costs are high. Specialists game the system to their advantage. Life-saving innovations get priced beyond the means of the poor. A series of academic ‘Occupy’ movements have emerged, for open innovation, Creative Commons and other ‘free-IP’ models in patents and copyrights. And politics makes it more complex: Before the Brexit vote, London was to be the home of one of three new European patent courts. Now, nobody knows.
In this formal debate, moderated by University of Manchester Vice-Chancellor Dame Nancy Rothwell, two teams of expert debaters lock horns. The proposition: “This House believes patents are more harmful than helpful.” After hearing both sides, the ESOF audience votes.
Arguing against patents is David Levine, an economist from Washington University in St. Louis and the European University Institute in Florence; he became prominent with a controversial paper, written for the US Federal Reserve Bank, laying out the case against IP. He is joined by Alessandro Nuvolari, an economist from the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa.
Defending patents is Bruno von Pottelsberghe, an economist from the Université Libre de Bruxelles and formerly chief economist of the European Patent Office. He is joined by Willem Broekaert, a well-known Flemish bio-entrepreneur and managing partner of V-Bio Ventures.
Who’s right? Join the debate to find out – and vote.Contact: Richard L. Hudson, Editor-in-Chief, Science|Business (organizer of the debate)
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