Thursday, October 05, 2006

Nobel Prize exposes fallacy of profits motivating innovation

The award of the Nobel Prize of Chemistry to Professor Roger D. Kornberg of Stanford University School of Medicine represents not only a very good news for the Kornberg family (his father won the Nobel Prize too!), but it also has certain consequences for the IP discussion. One of the arguments of the knowledge industry (or those who seem to speak for them) is that strong IP rights are necessary to encourage innovation and accordingly stronger IP rights will bring more innovation, but there have been some counterarguments in the past pointing out that most of the relevant basic innovation is carried out with public funding and that the public health arguments of those supporting stronger IP rights are bogus ones, and this Nobel prize seems to confirm it (again). As reported in the New York Times, “Dr. Jeremy M. Berg, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health, said that honoring Dr. Kornberg showed the importance of taxpayer-supported basic research not focusing on a specified goal. The institute has financed Dr. Kornberg’s work since 1979, even when it was unclear whether the research would be successful, Dr. Berg said" and the Washington Post adds that "[u]nderstanding how gene transcription works mechanically in three dimensions -- a 30-year quest -- has no direct medical application", and thus should not be patentable, but it continuates saying "the events Kornberg studies are so central to the function of cells that understanding them will undoubtedly have practical uses." What it is probably clear is that Professor Kornber’s work would have not been supported by private institutions in need of profit to justify their innovation programs and, therefore, we are in front of yet another instance where innovation has non-economic incentives, which invalidates the whole idea of strengthening the IP system to guarantee profiteering rates to companies so they invest more in innovation and benefit society.

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