Patents - The Question of Ethics

Essay by caseytangUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, February 2006

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What are Patents?

The term 'patent' literally means 'laying open' (to public scrutiny). It serves to provide the inventor an incentive to disclose the exclusive knowledge he possesses for the advancement of society in exchange for a limited period of exclusivity. A patent therefore is the exclusive and legal right to make, use or sell an invention or innovation (any product, process or improvement thereof that provides for a technical solution to a problem which is new, original, involves an inventive step and is industrially applicable) granted by a government; or an organization with equivalent / sufficient powers; to an inventor or applicant for a limited amount of time (normally 20 years from the filing date). This period of exclusivity allows the inventor to recover the heavy costs incurred during the process of inventing, innovating, marketing, developing, improvising and producing the "new" product. It also serves as means for encouraging further capital investment for current and future research and development which will lead to subsequent invention and progress.

The English Monarchy was among the first ones to issue "patent letters" to a person(s) for providing particular goods or services in the name of the crown. But later, finding that such rights were being abused by the royal court itself, King James I of England decided to enact the statute of Monopolies which passed the exclusive rights to inventions from the Monarchy to the inventor. This Statute was used as the basis for drafting patent laws as we know them today. However, different countries often interpret Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) differently and thus formulate different patenting laws and implementation methods for the same. Such differences often lead to conflicts of interest when trade across international borders is concerned. As such, the WTO formulated the TRIPS Agreement (Trade Related aspects of IPR)...