In the current economy, laws that regulate patents play a central roll in sustaining private investment and bringing products to consumers. Patents are the monopoly rights for companies over production of a product so they may make a profit – a central theme in the “innovation economy”. However, most academics studying intellectual property acknowledge that the majority of technology “innovation” covered by private patents has been either directly financed by the public sector or is highly subsidized. Much of the technology found in mobile phones was actually invented by publicly financed university researchers and government labs.
Unfortunately, all this public subsidy is still not enough for some companies who have purchased these monopoly patent rights. The ecosystem of patent owners include companies who are not interested in using the patent to bring technology to consumers, they simply want to own them so other companies have to pay to rent the technology in the patents. These companies are widely regarded as “trolls” in the technology community. Essentially, they use the unregulated market in patents to drive costs up for new technologies others might try to bring into the marketplace.
It is true irony then that universities – institutions largely funded by the public and developing these technologies – are selling their patents to patent trolls.
For socialists, this activity is ridiculous. Publicly funded technology development should be released to the public who funded it for free. The very notion that universities should generate revenue by making the last stages of production more difficult and expensive undermines the very purpose of publicly funded research. That these institutions have now turned to selling public technology rights to patent trolls – yet again increasing the cost of research and development – is ludicrous.
Luckily, the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (the defender of everything good about freedom on the internet) has launched a campaign to stop universities from selling their patents to patent trolls. A similar campaign should be launched here in Canada in conjunction with defending the principles of public-financed technology: publicly-funded research should be free for the public to take advantage of.