For most people, the patent system is a complex and mysterious institution far from our immediate concerns; as such, it should then remain in the hands of industrials and their lawyers. An unfortunate way of thinking: the related costs are indeed ultimately supported by all of us as end users. While we could benefit from a wide range of new products that would make our life easier in a way we don’t even dare to dream about, we invariably end up paying for never ending lawsuits between tech giants. A shameful situation that should no longer remain in the shadows.
A good documentary on Patents War was broadcasted on the bilingual French-German channel Arte in early July, showing how patents actually impact our everyday life. It’s a little out of date – the reference to US laxity with regards to patent trolls notably seems to forget about the Innovation Act passed last year – with a slightly irritating voice-over – the cheesy background saxophone being as for itself rather charming than annoying. Nevertheless a comprehensive overview of the situation is given.
The film covers a variety of case studies showing how our food, health, work, household and leisures are dramatically affected by patent costs and slowed down processes. Astonishing numbers are then given: four thousand dollars for a cancer risk screening; two hundred fifty thousand patents for a smartphone; higher budget allocated by major IT actors on patents than on research and development… The consequences in terms of innovation, sustainability and well-being are disastrous.
While the traditional methods of communication were keeping the intellectual property mechanisms understandable only by an enlightened elite, the information society has made knowledge accessible, so that each and anyone of us can now take an interest in any topic and potentially help fix existing problems. The patent system is one of them; with enough of us spreading the word and highlighting the cracks present in the overall regulation, we can overturn the latter and move on towards a fair, healthy and innovation driven competition.