Thursday, November 05, 2009

Of patent twits, Switzerland, and the Netherlands

In the context of naming Gene Quinn as "patent twit of the week", some of the folks at the "Center for a Stateless Society" brought up the once-patentless countries of the Netherlands and Switzerland:

Koepsell had mentioned “that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, two of the most innovative countries on earth (The Netherlands and Switzerland) had no patent systems at all”.

Actually, Switzerland introduced patents in 1888. [protection for chemicals, pharma and process patents was excluded; patent protection was expanded in 1907.] The Netherlands, which had had patent protection, abolished it in 1869. As Zorina Khan noted: "the Netherlands was never vaunted as a leader in technological innovation." Between 1851 and 1865, when the Netherlands DID have patent protection, 88.6% of Netherlands patents were granted to foreigners. When patent protection was re-introduced in 1912, 79% of Netherlands patents went to foreigners.

[See also Eric Schiff, Princeton Press, 1971.]

See also

to State Less-->

As a followup, Switzerland had a patent office (and patents) from 1888 onward, and, yes, Einstein was there in 1905, the year of his three significant papers, which were not written on company time. The Netherlands had a patent system until 1869, abolished it, and re-established it. Before and after, about 4/5 of the patents went to foreigners, because the Netherlands was not exactly an invention powerhouse. It is easy for small countries to free-ride on the technology of others.

UPDATE. As if by demand, Mike Masnick has yet another post on "dear old patent-less Switzerland on 25 Nov 09
Researchers: Copying And Imitation Is Good For Society , including text

When we've talked about things like the chemical industry in Switzerland in the late 19th century (which was not covered by patents), there were certainly many chemical companies who focused on copying -- but there were also many who were quite innovative, and the overall impact to the economy was very strong.

From Zorina Khan:

In other areas, notably chemicals, dyes and pharmaceuticals, Swiss industries were export-oriented, but even today their output tends to be quite specialized and high-valued rather than mass-produced. Export-oriented inventors were likely to have been more concerned about patent protection in the important overseas markets, rather than in the home market. Thus, between 1888 and 1907, although Swiss laws excluded patents for chemicals, pharmaceuticals and dyes, 20.7 percent of the Swiss patents filed in the United States were for just these types of inventions. The scanty evidence on Switzerland suggests that the introduction of patent rights was accompanied by changes in the rate and direction of inventive activity.

Whatever innovative work Switzerland was doing was dedicated to the EXPORT market and covered by patents in those jurisdictions. Hardly an argument for no patents. Further, if the no-patent system went so well, why did Switzerland go to chemical patent coverage in 1907?

One also notes the text:

At the end of the 19th century Germany complained about the absence of a patent law in Switzerland and the consequent theft of German intellectual property by Swiss firms, especially in the chemical industry. citing to Chang, Ha-Joon: Kicking Away the Ladder. See also Schiff, Eric: Industrialization without National Patents, Princeton University Press, 1971, mentioned above.

Mike Masnick: All hat and no cattle, that boy just ain't real


Post a Comment

<< Home