Aidan Hollis is a professor of economics at the University of Calgary and the president of Incentives for Global Health.
The U.S. patent system is one of the greatest inventions of all time. No bureaucrat could possibly determine how much to reward creators of society’s most valued advances; the patent system does it automatically by granting the inventor exclusive use of the invention for 20 years. That means that if I come up with a new and improved solar panel, I alone can profit from my invention for two decades — you either have to buy it from me or pay a licensing fee to replicate my design. As economist Adam Smith noted in 1762, “If the invention be good and such as is profitable to mankind, he will probably make a fortune by it; but if it be of no value he also will reap no benefit.” Patents are so important that the Founders mentioned them in the Constitution as one of the essential powers of Congress.
That window of exclusivity is somewhat arbitrary but has become standard throughout the world. Although the patent system has served inventors well, it risks being an obstacle to the widespread adoption of technologies that co... Read more