Sunday, 11 May 2014

Pirate Party Talking Points: Patents

Patents are supposed to provide a means for restricting profiting off an invention to the inventor. They're a short-term monopoly on innovation and distribution and cover everything from hoovers to drugs. The Pirate Party is concerned at the way the patent system is being abused and fears the advent of patent trolling to the extent that it happens in America.

Pirates are opposed to the idea that patents, in and of themselves, create jobs. No, manufacturing inventions creates jobs. Patents can actually prevent jobs from being created when they're over-broad or based on obvious or extant items (prior art).

Medical Patents

Patents on medicine and medical appliances, etc., are killing people. Why? Because pharmaceutical companies like Bayer are more interested in protecting their business model and profits than in serving the oncology (cancer) market. Other business models have been under discussion for some time, but because a system is already being enforced to protect the existing business model, in which evergreening effectively grants everlasting patent terms, it's unlikely that any meaningful reform will take place unless the Pirates get enough MEPs into office to make a difference. This doesn't just hurt people in places like India.
Branded medicines cost the health service £12bn last year and price rises have seen costs rise by five per cent annually, putting huge demands on stretched NHS budgets. - The Independent.

That may not seem like a lot compared to actual spending on the NHS, but we haven't taken medical equipment and devices into consideration. They are patented too. Patents on medicine are supposed to provide incentives for further research and development but actually all they achieve is the prevention of research, development, and distribution by their rivals. The monies received from patent rents are usually spent on marketing, not R&D. We need to phase out patents on medicines and find new ways of incentivizing medical research and development.

Patents on plants

The biotech companies are aggressively promoting genetically engineered plants, ostensibly to prevent world hunger. The trouble is, they're suing farmers for saving and replanting seeds, as has been done for generations. You don't own the seeds you buy from these companies, you're licensing them.
When farmers purchase a patented seed variety, they sign an agreement that they will not save and replant seeds produced from the seed they buy from us. - Monsanto's website: Why Does Monsanto Sue Farmers Who Save Seeds?

It's not true that they sue over pollen blowing into farmers' fields, but they are a threat to agricultural biodiversity by restricting the number of strains available that are resistant to extreme weather events and pests. Even the most advanced genetically-engineered plants eventually succumb to pests. It's a sort of arms race with nature, and nature wins. Now patents are supposed to incentivize research and development, but why spend money on that if you can stop others from competing with you?

In contrast to what we hear from Monsanto, patents actually restrict innovation, as researchers can no longer freely use patented plants in breeding experimentation. Increasing market concentration in seed ownership has also destroyed true market competition. In 2004, half of global seed sales were controlled by 10 companies. Today, those companies control nearly three-quarters of sales. This concentration has led to higher prices and shrinking choice for consumers. - The Atlantic: The Battle for Biodiversity: Monsanto and Farmers Clash

It has never been more important to ensure biodiversity and the continued production of crops to feed a growing population. This can not be achieved by leaving production largely in the hands of companies that demand you don't save and replant the seeds from the crops you grew from the seeds they sell you, but purchase new seeds or a new seed license every time you plant new crops. For these reasons, we are opposed to patents on plants.

Software patents must be banned

The trouble with software is that it's basically mathematics; a series of 1s and 0s. Algorithms – a set of simple instructions on how to carry out a task – are not themselves patentable. However, moves are afoot to extend patents to software and we will resist them because allowing them would put a tollbooth on innovation. Copyright on APIs has been threatened, which would interfere with interoperability between programs, driving costs up by adding layers of license fees to software and hardware.

Non-practicing entities (trolls)

In all the fuss over inventors' rights, we keep forgetting that the patent holders aren't always the actual inventors. Patent trolls are companies that buy up portfolios of patents, whether they have intrinsic value or not, and instead of being incentivised to innovate on them, they sue other companies for infringement. It's usually cheaper to settle than defend oneself. This is a huge problem in America, and it's likely that we'll be seeing it over here as a result of trade agreements in which IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) enforcement and expansion is an essential part.

Patent law needs to be reformed or replaced with an approach that enables freer and fairer markets instead of continuing to further stifle innovation.

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