Liberal Think Tank Says Patents Are Destroying the Planet

By Gene Quinn
June 25, 2009

I was doing some searching online today regarding climate change and the vote that will take place tomorrow in Congress regarding the so-called cap and trade legislation that, if enacted, would raise the cost of electricity for every American family by an estimated $3,100 per year.  As I surfed around the web I stumbled on to what can only be described as an irrational rant by Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the liberal think tank Center for Economic and Policy Research, titled Patent Fundamentalists Threaten the Future of the Planet.  And to think that I just thought I was helping secure rights for clients that are specifically authorized by the US Constitution and recognized by Congress.  Who knew that patent attorneys and inventors were destroying the planet?  I think this is giving us all too much credit really.  Could patent attorneys and inventors really destroy the planet?  That sounds so B-movie science fiction-ish to me.  But if playing a role in helping inventors and business protect the rights they are entitled to while participating in a capitalistic economy is destroying the world, count me in!  I think much could be accomplished by destroying the world view of the anti-patent crowd!

There is at least one little problem with Weisbrot’s rant — namely he has zero evidence to support his position.  Other than that, he makes a point; not a good one mind you, but it is a point nevertheless. His nonsensical view of patents starts with the premise:

Now it appears that international efforts to slow the pace of worldwide climate disruption could also run up against powerful interests who advocate a “fundamentalist” conception of intellectual property.

It would appear that Mr. Weisbrot believes that those who hold patent rights will prevent the world community from coming to an agreement whereby patents can be completely ignored in order to save the plant from global warming… or wait… not global warming because the globe does not seem to be warming any more and according to NASA data has started a cooling cycle, so the rhetoric is now been altered to “climate change” or as Weisbrot calls it “climate disruption.”

It is really odd that over the years those who support invasive government control of the economy have shifted their claims away from global warming to climate change.  This is no doubt because when you look at scientific studies you learn pretty quickly that this is not the first time that carbon dioxide gases have grown to extremely high levels in the earth’s atmosphere, but it is the only time in history that humans have been around to blame.  The previous times there were many other causes, and in the past global warming has had more to do with volcanic activity than anything else. Regardless, the truth is that whenever the earth has experienced warming temperatures have risen to a certain point and then started dropping, and in some cases that eventually resulted in an ice age, which if you ask me seems far more likely than the earth temperature continuously rising.

Have you ever wondered why it is that those claiming global warming is going to destroy the planet never show temperature charts that go beyond the last couple hundred years?  Easy, because historical records show that over the last 400,000 years the temperature of the earth has risen, fallen, risen again and fallen again.  Only for the last 10,000 years has the temperature of the earth remained relatively constant, and even during the last 10,000 temperatures have been higher than they are today.  See for yourself below, which are taken from antarctic ice core data and reported by NASA (see Paleoclimatology: The Ice Core Record and Tales from the Ice Age):

With all this in mind, it is not at all surprising that patents, a favorite target of many who just do not like innovation, scientific advances and capitalism, would be blamed for whatever is wrong with the economy, and now apparently whatever is wrong with the environment and the planet as a whole.  This would be flat out knee-slapping humorous if it didn’t have any chance of succeeding as an argument to persuade those unfamiliar with history.  Lets face it, if facts ever did matter in public debate we are long since past factual reality making a difference.

While it is sadly true that facts no longer matter to many, or perhaps even most, they do still matter to me.  I am certainly going to be branded a member of the fringe because I actually think we should look at historical temperature data, and not jump to conclusions that satisfy a particular agenda.  Likewise, I will certainly be branded a part of the problem because I am not willing to concede that patents are evil.  Notwithstanding, just in case anyone other than me is still interested in the facts, truth and reality, allow me to point out that the thought that patents are destroying the planet is actually as absurd as it sounds.

Weisbrot argues:

Patents are monopolies, a restriction on trade that creates inefficiency in exactly the same way that tariffs, quotas, or other trade barriers do. The economic argument for relaxing patent rules is therefore the same as that for removing trade barriers, only times 50 or 100, or even 1000 — since the average tariff on manufactured or agricultural goods is quite small compared to the amount by which patent monopolies raise the price of a pharmaceutical drug.

The trouble with this, aside from it being completely wrong, is that it ignores what should be obvious on its face.  You can complain about the price of drugs, but without patents you would never have the drug in the first place.  It is nice to dream about utopia, or a communal society where people with money will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop drugs all without ever wanting to recoup any of it.  The unfortunate part of such a world is that it does not exist, it never has exited, and it never will exist.  So while you rail on about how evil patents are because they raise the price of drugs why don’t you just come out and say what you obviously mean — you hate pharmaceutical drugs and think the world would be a better place without them.  That is obviously Weisbrot’s position, and the position of anyone who agrees with him, because you cannot have drugs without patents.  Innovation requires capital investment and without exclusive rights no investors are willing to take on the risk required to fund research and start-up businesses.  It really is that simple, and just because you don’t think is should be that way doesn’t mean that it isn’t that way.

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and President & CEO ofIPWatchdog, Inc.. Gene founded IPWatchdog.com in 1999. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and Of Counsel to the law firm of Berenato & White, LLC. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 7 Comments comments.

  1. Jeff Perkins July 2, 2009 4:48 pm

    It is not surprising that a socialist doesn’t like patents. Patents are personal property, usually held by private parties (i.e. not the government). Socialists like taking people’s wealth “for the common good.” Even current US law permits expropriation of private patent rights under certain circumstances (secrecy order). As our country devolves into a gangster-run Banana Republic, expect further schemes to expropriate private intellectual property — or to prohibit its creation on the first place. As predicted by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged, when Hank Rearden had to surrender his patent for Rearden Metal.

    That famous experiment in socialism called the Soviet Union didn’t like patents, either. They issued “Inventor’s Certificates”, no more than glorified attaboys, to their slave-inventors. How did that work out for them, hmmmm? I doubt if Weisbrot knows about that aspect of the USSR, or if he ever knew, engages in Orwellian blankout to prevent recalling it.

    A country that does not protect its intellectual property is destined to a future of tin-shacked barrios. But to a socialist, all property is static, no weatlh is ever created — only held by the selfish or “shared” by the needy.

    God help us.

  2. Dan Feigelson July 2, 2009 5:52 pm

    Thanks, Gene. It’s refreshing to know that I’m not the only one who recognizes that, to the extent the earth is warming, man isn’t to blame. And like you, I think the idea of new medicines is pretty cool, and that we wouldn’t have them without patents.

    But then, I’m the guy who thought it was strange when I saw a sign at a dry cleaner that said, “We now have organic solvents” – isn’t that what dry cleaners have always used – trichloroethane or something like that?

  3. Gene Quinn July 2, 2009 9:28 pm

    Dan-

    I don’t know about the dry cleaners, but it is likewise good to hear others understand that global warming is a myth. I have been saying this for years because all the factual historical information is well know, but ignored for a political and social agenda. Over the last couple years they haven’t been able to stop people from reading their own thermometers and noticing the globe is cooling, so they changed their tactics. I knew I was right, as were all the other heretics who refused to believe in global warming, when Al Gore and his chronies stopped calling it global warming and started calling it “climate change.”

    We will soon enough hear from them that this is exactly what they predicted. The pseudo-science claimed that eventually higher temperatures would result in lower temperatures. Obviously as a ploy to cover their bases, so whatever happened they would be right.

    -Gene

  4. Carlyle July 17, 2009 6:20 pm

    I disagree with the above comments about personal property and socialism. I think patents “should” be personal property of the creator(s). The problem is patents and copyrights can be bought and sold like stock, can gain unreasonable value, and this is where things go dreadfully wrong, because then rich individuals who have taken no real part in creation can profit from which they did not really contribute to. There is a tremendous degree of stifling of innovation and technology by virtue of patents and copyright. There is also great harm too, in the improper development on medicines and medical devices, because power and money get shifted aways eventually from the creative to the business class, where they do not belong. I feel the only way this is ever going to be solved is only if copyrights and patents are not allowed to be sold only leased for fixed periods by the owners or developers (including companies if they are truly the creators). We all have witnessed tremondous growth and innovation in technologies that have been opensourced (internet, wikipedia, etc.). Can you imagine if a big telecom would have tried to develop the internet….we would have all been charged and it would never have developed to the useful extent it has. Moreover, any company, restaurant chain, etc. who is going to profit from the public, had better make certain that the details of their creation should be public knowlege for their perusal. I don’t want to know any “secret recipe” is going into my kids mouth, before scientists who know something about carcinogens are able to evaluate it. Similarly, biotechnology has developed by leaps and bounds because of free source information, not because of company patents…whereas the development of drugs is riddled with corruption and obfuscation because of pharma big and obtrusive hands, trade secrets, etc. The best solution is that the creation belongs to the creator. When that creator passes on, it should be in the public hands, the same public (educators, parents, friends, and the cutlure at large) who created an environment for that creator to create. It is no socialism, it is respect for good old fashion American individualism and meritocracy.

  5. Carlyle July 17, 2009 6:28 pm

    Also about the millions of dollars to develop drugs that is an extreme overstatemnet. Good drugs are deliberately NOT developed by companies solely for monetary reasons. Instead chemical modifications to already perfect durgs which may be harmful solely for the purpose of patent rights. We need drug development sponsored in universities and public labs where it belongs. A recent very promising Alzheimer drug which has been around for decades as an anti-Histamine was just bought from Russia and half a billion. It it turns out as promising as it sounds like, we will all pay for that buyout in higher costs. It is corruption at its worst. The same can be said for many AIDS drugs. There are plenty of excellent scientists at top universities who do the groundwork anyways. Companies have their place, but their power and money grabs are ridiculous and ruining everything.

  6. Gene Quinn July 18, 2009 2:04 am

    Carlyle-

    Obviously you are not knowledgeable in this area. If you think it is an overstatement to say that it takes millions of dollars to develop a drug you either do not know the facts, or you are choosing to ignore them. The cost of taking a drug from discovery to market is easily into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Even those who are anti-pharma acknowledged that the cost is easily $200 million, some estimates as high as $400 and the pharma industry says it is $900 million or more. Even if the truth lies in the middle, or even closer to the anti-pharma estimates, the cost is extraordinary.

    -Gene

  7. Gene Quinn July 18, 2009 2:11 am

    Patents do not stifle innovation. No matter how many times that is alleged it will never be accurate.

    If you care to understand why see: http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2009/07/16/gates-hurricane-patents-discussed-in-usa-today/id=4594/

    The reality is that patents foster innovation by giving incentive to improve upon what has already been invented. Also, because patent require adequate disclosure with respect to how to make and use an invention, innovators are able to stand on the shoulders of those who came before them and build on the innovations of those who preceded them.

    -Gene