The Influence of Patents on Science

J. TRERISE

POLITICS, PHILOSOPHY, AND ECONOMICS, Volume 15, Issue 4

Abstract: This paper is a critique of the current US patent system along general consequentialist lines. I present a pro tanto case against it because of its effects on scientific inquiry. The patent system is often thought to be justified (or necessary) because it provides incentives to innovate. I challenge this concern. Economists and legal scholars have spent a good portion of time analyzing particular aspects of the patent system. I here synthesize their work, showing how it amounts to a pro tanto moral case against patents. This is the case even though patents are said to incentivize innovation, its disclosure, and its transfer to interested parties. I explore all of these possibilities, finding them to only weakly (at best) support the institution of patent rights. Juxtaposing this weak case for patents along with various problems that patents cause for science, we find a pro tanto case against our current patent system. To my knowledge, no one has tried to synthesize the various concerns I raise, with particular attention to not only the patent’s system purported ability to incentivize innovation, but also to disclose and transfer technology.