Reforming nanotech patents: proposals of varying practicality

ETC Group has issued a new 36-page report on Nanotech’s “Second Nature” Patents: Implications for the Global South (pdf), summarized in a two-page news release (pdf). The report lists various concerns about nanotech patents, including from Stanford’s Mark Lemley and the Nanobusiness Alliance, but the primary issue for ETC is access for poor countries. Multiple recommendations are made, including global suspension of new patent grants “until further social review, including wide public debate, is undertaken on the impacts of nanotech IP.” I’d say a suspension is going too far, but it may be time to (1) review Bayh-Dole — the legislation governing patent ownership for U.S. federal research in universities — for possible improvement, and (2) find out why it seems to be politically impossible for the U.S. patent office to retain the fees it receives, enabling it to do a better job. A more radical issue is the length of patents, now 20 years instead of 17, even though the original 17-year figure was chosen when things moved much more slowly. ETC suggests: “a global ten-year sunset clause on all monopoly patents.” Worth considering?–CP

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