Inventors and businesses often consider their patents to be among their most valuable assets. Others, on the other hand, believe that holding a patent on new technology only establishes a monopoly.
Both of these points of view are correct to some extent. After all, patents are a regulatory privilege that falls under federal legislation.
A patent looks a lot like property since it can be purchased and sold. Furthermore, the owner of a patent can block others from using, selling, distributing, or manufacturing their innovation by invoking the claims included within the patent.
Patents may appear to be property, but they are not always genuine property. As in the case of real estate lots, real property is easily identifiable. They have well-defined and explicit goals.
If the owners of two neighboring plots disagree on the location of their land's boundary, they can use surveyors and land documents to resolve the issue.
On the other hand, determining the patent's bounds is not always straightforward. The claims in a patent are what define it, yet they might be unclear at times.
To effectively detect the technology that is included in the claims, substantial levels of legal and technical competence are usually necessary.
Even specialists may disagree regarding the actual scope of the patent. This can lead to patent litigation, which is an expensive and time-consuming process with no guarantees of success.
Taking a patent owner to court sounds like a good way to figure out what the patent is worth and what all it entails.
Regrettably, this is not always the case. Consider this: around 40% of the time, judges' findings on what a patent's claims cover are overturned. Courts may also disagree, demonstrating that defining what a patent covers is never simple.
Patents: Do They Lead to Monopolies?
Both sides of this debate have ardent advocates, yet careful study reveals that patents do not always result in monopolies. This is somewhat accurate because the vast majority of patents are ultimately useless.
Maybe they're aimed at the technology that no one needs, or they're so limited in scope that rivals can easily build around them.
A patent might be thought of as a mini-monopoly in the sense that the patent owner has complete control over the product.
A patent might be thought of as a mini-monopoly since it gives the patent owner the authority to restrict others from utilizing their protected technology without obtaining a license or other authorization.
Others, on the other hand, can always negotiate with the patent owner to exploit the technology. If no agreement can be reached, the rival may attempt to plan around the invention or wait a few years for the patent to expire, at which point fresh advances may become even more appealing.
What About Patents on Pharmaceuticals?
Every business is unique, and the pharmaceutical industry is commonly noted as holding monopolies over pharmaceuticals that have the potential to save or alter lives. Patents as monopolies proponents point out that other industrialized countries do not have patents.
Other industrialized countries have alternative systems in place, such as negotiated rates or price restrictions, according to supporters of the patents-as-monopolies argument. The government in these other nations decides how far a pharmaceutical corporation may abuse its monopoly.
As a result, persons in the United States who require prescription pharmaceuticals pay almost twice as much as people in other wealthy countries.
Opponents argue that having a patent permits a pharmaceutical corporation to set the price of potentially life-saving drugs.
True, a patent allows a pharma corporation to determine the price of a new treatment, and no one is claiming that the system is faultless. Patents do, however, expire, and these treatments can then be sold. These treatments can then be sold as generic equivalents, which are significantly less expensive.
The Patent Monopoly Is a Myth
The fact is that converting a patent into concrete income is often difficult, if not impossible. Few innovators will ever be surprised to see a money truck or a large cheque in the mail. A market for the protected product does not exist simply because a patent has been obtained.
Consider that Webster's Merriam-definition of monopoly contains phrases like "exclusive ownership by legal privilege, control of supply, or concerted action" and "a commodity controlled by one person." Other dictionary meanings refer to the monopoly holder's power to facilitate "manipulation of price."
As a result, it is uncommon for an investor or even a firm to have a real monopoly just by holding a patent. There can be no monopoly if there is no market.
The truth is that the vast majority of patents never see the light of day. Many that are commercialized lose money since there aren't enough interested clients. As a result, real monopolies are rarely granted by patents.
"Nowhere in any legislation is a patent designated as a monopoly," wrote a former top judge of the United States Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit. The patent right is nothing more than the right to keep others out, which is the exact essence of 'property.'"
Despite reports to the contrary, it is practically difficult for any patent to entirely lock up a certain market segment. This is due to the rarity of really core technologies that are critical to that industry. The majority of patents are for incremental changes or advancements, which makes patent rights relatively unstable.