A Patent: The Stimulator of Innovation

By Wouter Kempes
Originally published in Mikroniek: Issue 1, 2015, Vol. 55

Wouter Kempes M.Sc., Dutch Patent Attorney

‘The core purpose of the patenting system is the constant promotion of innovation and progress in the development of technology’

When it comes to patents, many prejudices and misconceptions exist. They have a reputation of being expensive, requiring a lot of time, and, perhaps, even being futile. Endless conflicts between companies such as Apple and Samsung seemingly display a system in which time and money are invested with very little to no result when it comes to the protection of an invention. This while the core purpose of the patenting system is the constant promotion of innovation and progress in the development of technology.

I often encounter people who regard a patent as a means to a monopoly position, a legal ban on third parties to use an invention. This is explicitly not the purpose of a patent system. Naturally, a patent provides the patent holder with an exclusive right to produce and sell his invention, thereby generating revenue. However, the patent holder is legally encouraged, of course in exchange for a reasonable fee, to provide others access to the invention. The patent system would surpass its purpose if indeed an invention is made which would be used nowhere in the world because of patent protection. If anything, the patent system is designed to spread innovation rapidly and lucratively across the globe.

So how is this ‘forced’ sharing of an invention not a restriction of owning a patent? Simply put, the sharing of an invention rather stimulates the market position of an individual patent holder and the general development within a field. A patent application appears as a publication within the patent literature, making this information globally available. The global disclosure of an invention without a patent leads to unrestricted copying. The alternative is keeping an invention secret, which restricts the potential sale of licensing rights. This while a patent can be an excellent means of rapidly spreading an invention across a market. The option of selling licensing rights means you are not restricted to manufacturing your invention yourself and can outsource any aspect of its manufacturing and marketing to ensure your position within the market. Take as example the Dutch storm umbrella, SENZ, which, after overtaking Europe, successfully found the US market through a licensing agreement.

But let’s get back to the patent itself. The global disclosure of an invention in the form of a patent application not only makes others aware of the opportunity to obtain a licensing right. It also encourages experts within a field to, on the basis of an invention, come up with further innovation, which in turn will also become part of the patent literature. It is an exchange of protection in return for a contribution to public know-how. Hence, the drive towards innovation is unceasing and more and more advanced products become continuously available. So, whereas conflicts between Apple and Samsung may appear futile at first, they are in fact an indication of an industry at the pinnacle of innovation. In the end, nonpatenting enables copying, whereas patenting stimulates progress.

Patent License Database
The Dutch government stimulates the cooperation between patent holders and entrepreneurs through a a database for patent licenses that was launched in late 2014. Anyone can gain insight into which technologies exist and which are on offer, facilitating the trade in licensing agreements, and as such the rapid advancement of innovation. The Databank Octrooilicenties (Patent Licenses Database) is an initiative of Octrooicentrum Nederland, part of RVO, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency. Visit the database.

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