THE INSIGHT: Why did you decide to cover a story about patents?
HLP: I came across the issue when I was researching another project on nanotechnology and the social impact of high-tech. I suddenly realised that the uncanny feelings that arose are not only provoked by what these technologies might do to us but by who owns and controls them. I learned that, especially in areas like the biotechnology and nanotech sectors, there are a lot of companies out there which research mainly in order to apply for patents, hoping that they will cover very broad and basic principles of a new technology and rake in a lot of money with their patents subsequently. I immediately felt that this was a very questionable practice and I thought, “Why don’t we know about this? Why is nobody discussing this?” To fill that gap was my main motivation when I started to work on the film about six years ago.
THE INSIGHT: Your documentary is a fascinating one with many implications. Very political and complex. Firstly, I think watching this movie dissuaded me from ever inventing anything or filing a patent!
Just the sheer insanity of it all didn’t make this an attractive world. Were you yourself amazed at the complexity and financial scale of it all? What would you say to someone who was young, ambitious and wanted to create something, perhaps like James Dyson?
HLP: The patent system is just another example of the many things that are going into a totally wrong direction. It’s just that most people aren’t aware of it.
If I were a young, ambitious, inventor – like James Dyson was about 30 years ago – I would probably not consider to file a patent today, but look for alternative means of protection and licensing systems like Creative Commons. I would also ask myself, ‘What do I expect from a patent?’ A patent is first of all a legal tool that gives you the right to sue your infringers. But, that costs a lot of money. So, unless you want to attract huge investments into your business and build up your own intellectual property department, a patent is probably hard to enforce for a small company anyway. I would ask myself, ‘Where is the value of the idea or the product that I invented? Can I come up with a business-model that does not rely on the intellectual property? If it is a great social innovation, isn’t it desirable to be copied as quickly and widely as possible anyway?’
But, unfortunately, there is still the risk that another company would come and sue me for infringement of their patents. So I might still need to go through the arduous and expensive process of filing a patent just to protect myself in anticipation of a possible attack. And that’s were this whole business gets really messy.