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Malaysia to split nanotech IP three ways

In the U.S., patent rights from federally-funded grants to university researchers generally go to the universities. Sometimes, the research professors benefit personally, depending on the school. This situation results from the Bahy-Dole Act of 1980. Most observers regard this act as an improvement over what came before, but it’s not clear that it is the best solution to the question of how to maximize public benefit from patents resulting from public funding of research.

Malaysia is taking a different approach. From a story at Bernama, the Malaysian National News Agency:

“To keep abreast with the latest technology trend, a National Nanotechnology Centre will be set up under the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP), Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Dr Jamaludin Mohd Jarjis said Tuesday…

“Jamaludin also touched on the intellectual property (IP) issue, saying research work undertaken with government grants should be jointly owned by the Government, the respective university as well as the scientists involved.

” ‘We will find the best model for the country on how this IP rights (in terms of percentage) should be shared among the three parties involved in research work,’ he said.”

Of course, it’s possible that having the government retain part of the rights will only slow down commercialization and delay the main public benefit from each nanotech advance, which is the use of the actual technology by the public, not patent royalties. What we need is a study comparing how these rights are assigned across many nations, and seeing which ways have worked best. Anyone know of such a study? Or want to fund one? Admittedly, it would be difficult to do well, since so many other factors vary among countries as well… —Christine

8 Responses to “Malaysia to split nanotech IP three ways”

  1. jbash Says:

    It’s not a matter of things being slowed down by the government holding some of the rights, so much as it is a matter of things being slowed down by the fact that there are at least three rights holders, at least two of them institutions, who have to negotiate among themselves before anything useful can be done. Now, if you had a system where any of the three could unilaterally grant licenses on any terms they might think proper (perhaps sharing any proceeds, but without having to argue about the terms), *that* might speed thigns up. From the one sentence in there, it seems that what they’re doing is the usual lawyer’s error of worrying about how to divide the pie, rather than how to enlarge it.

    Oh, and Bayh-Dole seemed like a good idea at the time, and may have even been a good idea given the structure of industry at the time… but I don’t think you can show me any real data that say that “most observers” agree that it’s better than the alternative now, or that counting the noses of “observers” is the right way to figure out what works anyway, given that most of the observers have vested interests in the system. Bayh himself seems to think Bayh-Dole is a loser.

    I do agree that there ought to be some real research in this area, and not only that but that somebody ought to make a credible and intellectually defensible attempt to make that research accessible and understandable to non-specialists. I’d also like a pony. In the meantime, until proven otherwise, I want to follow the most obviously moral path and arguably the practical path: no patents on government-funded research, anywhere, ever… and private foundations ought to do the same with research they fund.

  2. Christine Peterson Says:

    Good comments, jbash. I quite agree that we should try to figure out what makes sense, rather than go by what “most observers” think, given that they do indeed have vested interests.

    The argument for patents on government funded research is that investors will not invest without protection. What is the answer to this point? —Christine

  3. jbash Says:

    Well, there’s more than one answer to that.

    One can reasonably deny the legitimacy of the whole question. If patents
    are wrong, or if the redistribution involved in patents for
    government-funded research is wrong, then it doesn’t
    matter if you’ll get more commercialization or not.

    Assuming that it is in fact moral to use monopolies and redistribution
    to get commercialization, and further assuming that you want
    rapid commercialization, it’s still not so obvious that patents are
    practically needed. People do invest in technology
    without “protection”. The usual example is the software industry,
    which grew from almost nothing to huge with no meaningful patent
    protection… obviously there was enough investment there to get
    the job done.

    Admittedly, investors are going to feel more comfortable if they feel
    they have monopolies than if they don’t, and given a choice between two
    otherwise equally attractive investments, they’ll choose the more comfortable
    one. However, that doesn’t mean that they’ll be stopped completely.
    Things are never entirely equal… and it could be arranged that
    there not be so many safe-seeming investments around to
    choose from.

    The existing system may actually prevent the commercialization
    of good technology that, for whatever reason, doesn’t happen to
    be patented. Would the stigma associated with not being patented tend to
    go away if a larger fraction of the obviously good, cutting-edge stuff
    was unpatented? How damaging is it that good, unpatented stuff doesn’t
    get commercialized, especially since truly revolutionary, ahead-of-their-time
    ideas may be out of patent before they’re feasible in practice?

    People still invest, and make lots of money, in industries where patents
    aren’t available. What are the basic patents underlying Wal-Mart? You
    can knock the software examply by saying that software has low startup
    costs and low barriers to entry, but retail doesn’t, really. How many
    really old industries are still dominated by the firms that started
    them? It would seem that running your business well is more important
    than having a patent.

    One can also argue that investors don’t value patents rationally, and
    that that could be fixed with better research (to establish the rational
    value) and education (to make it widely known). Most
    people who aren’t patent lawyers don’t realize how hard it can be to
    actually enforce a patent, and most people who aren’t business managers
    don’t realize how many things, beyond just having the basic description
    of the technology, it takes to turn an idea into a viable
    business… how important it is to run the business well… how
    valuable it is to have the top experts on a technology, even if you
    don’t have a patent on it… how much the prestige of being the
    inventor and the best is worth. They therefore overvalue patent
    protection… especially when patent lawyers and random fluctuations in
    fashion tell them patents are Very Important.

    That brings up the question of whether the investors you get with
    patents are the ones you want. The people you want to encourage
    are those who plan to build real businesses with real good will,
    real know-how, and real reputations in the market… none of which
    come from patents. Are investors who are primarily concerned
    about patent protection as high-quality as investors who know
    that they’re building businesses with intrinsic value? Do they
    have the same long-term attitude?

    There’s also the issue of friction at the startup stage. To the extent
    that entrepreneurs are worried about infringing patents, they may be
    chilled from starting anything. I’ve seen people chilled from
    starting businesses by patents. I’ve seen this in cases where the patent
    holders proceeded, through their own extremely poor business management,
    to utterly fail to commercialize the technology… perhaps unjustly
    damaging the technology’s reputation in the process. If you give
    somebody a monopoly over a technology, that person’s errors are
    going to affect the whole technology.

    Another factor is that the costs of starting
    businesses may go way up if founders have to worry about possibly
    licensing patents. In some industries, you can start a company on almost
    no capital… fees for lawyers to worry about IP encumbrances may be
    your biggest startup cost, if you really do worry about it.
    That’s important, because a cost that might be trivial for an
    established business can completely prevent the creation of a new one,
    and that effect is worst in “scruffy” new industries.
    Even within an established business, having to deal with management
    questions about IP can make it hard to start up a new initiative.

    I’ve had actual legal advice not to worry about patents, and to
    avoid finding out if things were covered by any patents,
    because of the treble damages for knowing violation. How good can a
    system be if its own practitioners have to advise people to ignore it?

    None of this is certain evidence for my side… but it is
    enough to pretty much destroy the automatic assumption that granting
    monopolies on inventions always increases investment, and that
    assumption is what underlies the Bayh-Dole patent giveaway.

  4. Adrian Wilkins Says:

    “Protection” is relative.

    What investors want is to be “protected” from competition. But the same set of people are the ones loudly proclaiming that competition is what provides the best deal for the common man.

    And isn’t US government “by the people, for the people”? Shouldn’t the same apply to research done in its’ name?

  5. Christine Peterson Says:

    Jbash: Thanks so much for your thoughful comments. I think we are due for a conference looking at this topic. —Christine

  6. Phillip Huggan Says:

    The quicker the “turnover” in a given industry, the shorter should be the time-period for patent protection. For nanotechnology (a field which changes weekly), the 20 year patent time-period should be cut in half. On the other hand there are some nanotechnologies which won’t even be feasible 10 years from now but someone may still want to patent them. So if you drop nanotechnology patent monopoly time-periods, you also have to strengthen the administration of patent offices at the same time.

  7. maryam shaeri Says:

    on behalf of a state based office in Iran working in the field of science -technology development we would like to find ways of mutual cooperation and marketing in the field of nanotechnology.

  8. Malaysia to split nanotech IP three ways | Anchorscience LLC Says:

    [...] In the U.S., patent rights from federally-funded grants to university researchers generally go to the universities. Sometimes, the research professors benefit personally, depending on the school. This situation results from the Bahy-Dole Act of 1980. Most observers regard this act as an improvement over what came before, but it’s not clear that [...] more [...]

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