Reforming Patents – The Right To Knowledge

The use of knowledge is fundamentally a right, and preventing its use is a crime of forcing someone to not use their mind sincerely. Much of publishing economics and the knowledge economy relies now heavily on patents and copyright which charge people for the use of some piece of knowledge or information. While this incentive system has produced more use of some kinds of knowledge it has stifled others. The good part of it is that it incentivises public declarations of what you know – that is in the word “patent” – making something obvious to others. We can do better than this crude exclusive right to use knowledge followed by no benefits from its use when the patent expires.

It is He Who has created you from dust then from a drop, then from a leech; then does he get you out (into the light) as a child: then lets you reach your age of full strength; then lets you become old,- though of you there are some who die before;- and lets you reach a Term appointed; in order that ye may learn wisdom.

Quran 40:67

This came to light recently in italy where a ventilator manufacturer could not provide parts, so people 3d printed them instead and saved many lives through violating a patent. This shows that patents have problems and are sometimes used to harm not benefit others.

The current system of patents grants exclusivity to use knowledge to companies who then manufacture products that no one else is allowed to make so that they can get an income to pay for their research costs.

This system has a number of flaws in it. It is most glaring when it comes to medicine. Medicine that works, like for example a single pill you can take, that will stop your addiction to smoking. Such cures if found are not promoted, even research along these lines is blocked because it has no good potential for profits. What makes good money for the pharmaceutical industry is to make people dependent on their symptom alleviating products. This gives them incentives – huge incentives – to get as many people as possible constantly in need of their products and so constantly unwell. The system literally incentivises the creation of chronic health conditions and prevents searching for things that actually cure us of disease or prevent it.

Research for example into nutrition generally has no patent possible, so does not get funded. Natural cures are suppressed in favour of those that earn money.

This is not to say that earning money is a bad incentive. What is wrong is the structure of incentives we have chosen to put in place that creates these perversities.

To fix this before it literally kills many more people we need to change that incentive mechanism.

People paying for products is fast going out of date. Instead we need to move to a system that actively monitors health of people and rewards the researchers not on a per pill sold basis but on a per patient cured basis. We can keep records of whoever has taken a drug, a nutritional supplement, followed a diet, or exercise routine, and follow the beneficial or other effects of doing so. From this we can determine which interventions have helped most. This information can then be used to reward the researchers who discovered what should be done.

This monitoring will also act as a verification of the claim that an intervention works. We can also build into such a system of rewards bonuses for speed and efficacy of the intervention.

For example, say I were to do a study on whether intravenous vitamin C can treat Covid-19 and could prove it works well. What incentive is there other than praise I would get. In fact I would only gain enemies from all those who would lose money from not selling their drugs and treatments.

What if, the government were to give me a share of the taxes paid by every individual who is cured because my treatment suggestion works? They would pay those taxes while they live and pay more if they get rich. So the faster they are back to health and productive, then the more money I would make.

Such a system of rewards could transform the way medicine works and fundamentally make for a healthier world. It could also be extended to many other acts of research well beyond medicine. If we introduce such prizes for intellectual results, we could see innovation in many fields that make life better. How many simple discoveries are out there which are too easy to copy and so cannot be patented but no one does the research. It could be in any form. For example, we have in software open source products already doing well. This blog is written with WordPress, that is open source. Who pays those who write it? Somehow it works but it could work better.

Those who write the software could gain some right over its users, if not monetary, some right over their time. The need to answer a survey or to send feedback on how they use the software. Other incentives can be built in to generate a source of revenue. If monitoring of use of software were to justify a tax revenue share prize to the authors of software, then there is a dramatic incentive to make such tools free to use and truly beneficial to those who use them. Software that sucked the users in to fantasy worlds and reduced their productivity could be less incentivised than simple tools that save time and get the user to do more, earn more, spend more and thus pay more in tax. The payouts could form regular competitions where significant prizes are given out for the biggest contributions to knowledge and technology based on study on the effects of such contributions.

If we change our incentive system to award prizes and systematic rewards for people who contribute to beneficial human knowledge we can, if not replace the patent system with something better, at least add to it a competing incentive that really rewards the generation of useful knowledge and so reduce perverse incentives that currently dominate behaviour trapping us into behaviour that generates profits for some through the harm caused to others.

The following is the video that provoked me to write this blog entry which focuses in on the massive conflicts of interest tax funded research has in the USA and most likely elsewhere due to patents and how they work and the inevitable corruption this causes.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The word of wisdom is the lost property of the believer. Wherever he finds it, he is most deserving of it.”

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2687