The following is an edited excerpt.
Traditionally, there has been a blithe assumption that more innovation occurs when patents are granted than when they are not. A forthcoming paper from an economist at MIT, Heidi Williams, provides an example of where that is not the case: in the field of genomics.
Williams has looked at the academic papers that flowed from two major competing projects: the global Human Genome Project (HGP), which placed all its result in the public domain, and Craig Venter’s company Celera, which sought to patent as much as it could of the sequences that it obtained. Here’s how National Journal’s Brian Fung describes her results:
Using a standard measure of academic-knowledge production, she compared the number of papers published using HGP data and Celera data. By 2009, genes that had been sequenced in 2001 from HGP had produced an average of 2.1 academic papers a year, while genes sequenced that same year by Celera led to just 1.2 papers a year over the next eight years. Even though the annual pace of Celera-linked papers rose rapidly after its IP was lifted in 2003, it never caught up to the rate of publication tied to the always-open non-Celera data.