On Patent Reform

Technological progress and innovation are by no doubt important issues for the success of the humanization of outer space. Hence we need to consider the role patents will have to play in the society and economy of future space settlements.

Ideally a patent system should promote innovation and bolster competition. However, Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine argue  in their article “The Case Against Patents” (Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 27 No. 1, Winter 2013) that in practice the current system actually achieves the very opposite.

Though Boldrin and Levine are critical of the very idea of patents, they realize that abolition is not feasible in the near future. Hence they propose several reforms to address the most imminent problems:

  1. The duration of patents should be shortened.
  2. Restrict the set of “things” that are subject to patents.
  3. Limit patents that hinder innovation.
  4. Adjust patents to different sectoral needs
  5. Award patents based on economic needs (i.e. in case of easy copying or high fixed costs).
  6. No patents on the results of government subsidized research.
  7. Rethink the set of government policies to stimulate innovation (e.g. prizes instead of patents in case of pharmaceutical research).

While the authors examine the US patent systems, their discussion is nevertheless of great interest when it comes to deciding if space settlements should implement a patent system and if so, how to design it.

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