17

There are many experimental tools in biological research that cost researchers an exorbitant amount (for example, single-cell RNA sequencing technology) - would someone be infringing on a patent (or likely, multiple patents) if they choose to produce the tools themselves and then gave the tools away to researchers, and received no compensation? How about if that person took donations through a GoFundMe to cover the production costs? Would there be any ways of doing this that are explicitly legally safe?

7
  • 4
    Your title and body ask nearly opposite questions... Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 0:07
  • 7
    @paulgarrett How so? The sentence "would someone ... no compensation?" is basically a longer version of the question in the title.
    – marcelm
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 11:04
  • 3
    @marcelm I think they're referencing the "How about if that person took donations through a GoFundMe to cover the production costs?" portion. Compensation for costs is still compensation.
    – TCooper
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 19:32
  • @marcelm That's because there are three separate questions in the body. If the answer is "yes", does it mean "yes, it's patent infringement" or "yes, there are safe ways of doing this"?
    – TooTea
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 12:26
  • 1
    I think you should also quality whether the tools you are thinking about are software or hardware. In the EU you cannot patent software but in the US you can. Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 13:41

3 Answers 3

38

You can’t do this

A patent provides the owner with the exclusive right to make (among other things) the patented thing.

1
23

"Would there be any ways of doing this that are explicitly legally safe?"

Yes. Buy all the patents, out of your own money.

Another option, if you can't afford that, is to buy a smaller number of licences and then pass those on for free to whoever you like. Or fund your own research/innovation centre. There are lots of legal ways of doing this.

The problem patents (and other intellectual property restrictions) are intended to solve is that research and innovation to develop a new technique is very expensive (laboratories, equipment, worker education, safety regulations, the cost of all the failed attempts, ...), but once invented, it is very cheap to copy. If researchers can't make money out of it, they won't do the research, and human progress suffers. (Scientists have bills to pay, too!) So we get round this - in a crude and inefficient way - by granting a temporary monopoly on an invention so that the inventor can charge as much as is needed to pay back the costs of its development and fund the next stage of research, and then the world gets it for free thereafter.

The result is that inventors invent, the rich who can afford it pay the full development costs in return for immediate access, and the rest of the world reaps the benefits in perpetuity of a much more voluminous stream of enthusiastic inventions once the patents expire.

If you want the rest of the world to get earlier access to those benefits, then you need to find a way to pay off the development costs faster. The obvious way is to simply pay the inventors directly. Buy the patent out of your own funds, and then release it to the rest of the world for free. The patent-holders are happy, they're being paid. The world is happy, they're getting the benefits immediately. And you're happy, you have generously used your own earnings to make the world a better place.

9
  • 11
    "buy a smaller number of licences and then pass those on for free to whoever you like" It's almost certain that the original license owner would prevent that. There's also nothing inherent in licenses that allows a licensee to be able to pass their license onto someone else, unless it's explicitly allowed in whatever contract they signed. And, unless you are a multi-billion dollar company, you aren't going to be able to get that in the contract. Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 17:42
  • 2
    +1 for "intended" Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 20:46
  • 1
    Aren't countries like China and India more lax with patents, especially in the medical space (topical to OPs question)?
    – Mathemats
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 2:14
  • 1
    @computercarguy That's a tiny technical detail that doesn't really matter much. Can't transfer licenses? OK, set up a website with "Need a license for this here expensive patent? Fill in your details in the form below and we'll buy a license for you". Or if that still doesn't work, then "Order a license from the inventor and send us the invoice, we'll pay it for you!".
    – TooTea
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 12:22
  • 7
    @TooTea Doesn't matter much for this question, but money isn't the only reason people don't license out their patents. E.g. the artist Anish Kapoor bought exclusive rights to the pigment Vantablack so that no other artists can use it. Then another group developed some cool pigments and made them available for anyone but Anish Kapoor to purchase, with a license that specifically says you cannot allow Anish Kapoor to use them. Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 13:22
0

Of course it is; how could it not be?

If you want to do this, that or the other without paying patent fees you have the option to contact the patent holder, explain how your activity doesn't infringe the patent and ask for some kind of special licence.

Why would that not work for you?

14
  • If the activity doesn't infringe the patent, you don't need a license.
    – cjs
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 2:46
  • 2
    When contacting a patent holder, it might be more fruitful to explain how the activity either doesn't hurt their income (provide tools to people who couldn't afford to buy them anyway?) or provides positive publicity or other benefits.
    – jpa
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 8:50
  • Making the thing covered by a patent (during the patent period) is basically the main thing that infringes on a patent--a patent is the sole rights to make the thing. From Oxford Languages, a patent is "a government authority or license conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention." Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 13:22
  • 2
    Important to note, that even if you don't sell an item, giving it away for free potentially deprives the patent-owner of the equivalent revenue.
    – MikeB
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 10:03
  • @cjs Of course not, and what makes you think it could be up to anyone but the patent holder… or the court… to decide what infringed the patent? Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 0:15

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .