Subject: Re: patent trolls and X-licensors
From: Thomas Lord <>
Date: Mon, 05 Jun 2006 20:58:58 -0700

simo wrote:
> Not in the Academy Thomas,
> in the Academy your reputation is built upon the papers you publish.
> In the academy the patents are not really an incentive on making good
> science, on the contrary they distract you from good science, and led
> you to study only what might drive revenues (not counting all the time
> wasted on preparing patent applications and keeping your stuff secret
> before the patent application).
> Science is essentially sharing, the patent system, as it stand is not.

It's really not quite that simple at top U.S. universities
and it probably shouldn't be.

Yes, publication is very important.   So are fund-raising
and social impact.   Social impact is increasingly (and
not entirely insanely) measured partially by a metric
of business spin-offs.

> Do you have any comparative data that shows that labs that were awarded
> patents produced more science than labs that were not so awarded.
I'm less interested in quantity than quality where, for our
purposes in a patent discussion, "quality" includes a metric
of "reinforcing social policy".

There is no question that NSF program policies influence
choices of what research gets done and that the hottest shots
tend to get the most rewarding grants.

> To you have a score of that department before and after patents started
> to be issued in that field, do you have any clear analysis that should
> that production of research was indeed boosted?

Again, I'm more interested in *direction* than *level of
production*.   I think the influence over direction is one
of the few things that we can reasonably say is apparent
on the surface and is common knowledge.

> It really depends on the goals.
> Good research is open and is uncertain in the outcome. If you are _not_
> bound to obtain a patent at the end of the process, then you can do good
> science, because you don't fear to miss your goal, you can just explore
> a matter in full, and in the end you may end up finding something new
> and great that you could not imagine when you started.

I 100% agree.   I'm in favor of also having securely salaried "sit
and think" researchers.  

It's like an investment problem.   There are multiple strategies
representing different trade-offs.   It's a gambling problem. 
Best known approach is to try to find a "balanced portfolio"
of different investment approaches.

> If your goal is a patent you will not research anything that does not
> clearly led you to something immediately valuable. Does the state need
> to compete with private companies in producing applied science? I don't
> think so, a state need to foster good science, because that is the kind
> of science private enterprises are not interested in.
The academics, in their academic context, are historically
better at some of the goal seeking problems and do perfectly
great science.   Let's see...  well, we could start with the Manhattan

>> I object when you say "to do what they would have done anyway".
>> Without the patent incentive, research at the academies would be
>> very different.  Rivest, Shamir, and Adelman may have done some
>> very high quality work -- on a very different topic.  As it was,
>> though, as a matter of public policy, we were able to give them
>> incentive to work on this problem.
> You don't need that in public institutions, private enterprises already
> have that incentive. 
And, guess what -- the grant system is two tracked.   There's one
track for research in academia and another for private industry.
We subsidize private companies creating patents, too.   In some
sense, the two ways of doing research compete against one another
from the social policy perspective.

> They need to compete in the market, 
These are markets.   They are defined by demand which
is defined by social policy which is established by political
process.   Suppliers compete to supply to that demand.  It's
quite competitive.

> they need to
> find out practical solutions when a problem arise.
> If you already have competition why should you put a patent on top? You
> already have incentives. You should put (the right) incentives where you
> don't have them instead.

What's a better incentive than a patent?

Patent offers seem to me like a way to leverage
grant programs.   More people will try harder for
just their costs because they think they can win big.
*Good* patents don't seem to cost us much, socially.
The real problem is that our bureaucratic system
and legal rules aren't selective enough.

> Do you think that without a patent, financial institution wouldn't have
> looked for the best algorithm they could use and firms would have tried
> to provide the best they could to serve financial institutions?
What do you mean by "best"?   RSA not only had a theoretically
good algorithm, they worked hard to lower the cost of its adoption
for these customers (without screwing themselves).