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Why Geim Never Patented Graphene 325

gbrumfiel writes "As we discussed on Tuesday, Andre Geim won this year's Nobel prize in physics for graphene, but he never patented it. In an interview with Nature News, he explains why: 'We considered patenting; we prepared a patent and it was nearly filed. Then I had an interaction with a big, multinational electronics company. I approached a guy at a conference and said, "We've got this patent coming up, would you be interested in sponsoring it over the years?" It's quite expensive to keep a patent alive for 20 years. The guy told me, "We are looking at graphene, and it might have a future in the long term. If after ten years we find it's really as good as it promises, we will put a hundred patent lawyers on it to write a hundred patents a day, and you will spend the rest of your life, and the gross domestic product of your little island, suing us." That's a direct quote.'"
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Why Geim Never Patented Graphene

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  • Name and Shame. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @11:53AM (#33836772) Journal

    He could at least have mentioned which "big, multinational electronics company" he spoke with.

  • by wazoox ( 1129681 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @12:01PM (#33836904) Homepage
    As said in the freely available e-book "against intellectual monopoly". I didn't write it, but it's well worth a read.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 08, 2010 @12:09PM (#33837050)

    That's how patents work in biotech. First you find a gene, then you immediately patent it - don't worry about figureing out what it does, because if you delay to do that a competitor might file first. Then you figure out what it does, and then you patent every possible application just to be safe. Commercial biotech research is basically driven by patents, but it can get extremally aggressive.

  • by z-j-y ( 1056250 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @12:14PM (#33837148)

    isn't his research funded by public money?

  • by walmass ( 67905 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @12:22PM (#33837274)
    TFA asks: "Finally, are you one of those Nobel prizewinners who is going to go crazy now that you've won? "

    The interviewer probably didn't know that Dr. Geim won the Ig Nobel [improbable.com] for levitating a frog.

    Between that and the fact that he cited saving taxpayer's money as a reason behind not filing a patent and his Friday experiments (which led to the scotch-tape on graphite) discovery, I think I have a new hero.
  • by rufty_tufty ( 888596 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @12:29PM (#33837382) Homepage

    They do help a little. I have a number of friends involved in startups and the patents they own are valuable, but they are not everything. As with all things in life if the big guy wants something they'll find a way to get it.

    IME if you have done a startup (e.g. electronics company) then you have three things of value:
    1) Your customer: lets say you have interest (but not sales) from a large company A and another large company B wants to sell to A. By buying you if they can get a foot in the door to company A that would be worthwhile.
    2) Your employees: startups tend to attract the bright go-getters - often useful to infuse a big old company
    3) Your IP, the code and the patents, although given the fact that the big company can out compete you in terms of bruteforce coding then once they know what you are up to, which if you have come onto their radar they will do; then once you have proved your technology then you have a very short window in which to get bought before this last item becomes worthless because they can set 100 monkeys onto the job.

    I've seen on a number of occasions the patents protect the small startup, but only as far as the demonstration of the specific technology they have developed.

  • My first guess was actually Intel. The "little island" comment lead me to think that the executive had mixed up the UK and Ireland (Intel have a big plant in Ireland). Then again, I wouldn't put it past the executive of any major US company to use the a pejorative like "little island" when referring to the UK. UK-ians need to learn to stop speaking American.

  • by danpat ( 119101 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @12:46PM (#33837608) Homepage

    The problem is that it takes less than those 5 engineers to get a crap patent into the system in the first place. When the cost of entry is lower than the cost of removal, the system is going to tend to fill up with crap.

    Now, if there was a fine levied against those that had their patents invalidated......

  • by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @12:46PM (#33837622)
    Kill the "big company", with bullets, literally. There is no dialogue with the kind of company that says such things. You do not tell to the bad guy "please, do not shoot me!", you shoot him. Twice.
  • by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @01:04PM (#33837834) Journal

    Why doesn't "Great Britain" *geographically* encompass Wales, also - isn't it all one island? If GB is the name for the island, as opposed to any of the political entities that share the island, isn't Wales also part of that island?

  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @01:21PM (#33838016) Journal

    Never understood the 'not obvious to the layperson' requirement, seems to me like it should be 'not obvious to someone in the given field'. In other words, if you presented 5 engineers with a problem and they all came up with the same or similar solutions, that solution should not be patentable, there is no leap that is worth rewarding with a monopoly. But I guess just getting the layperson requirement to actually be honored would be a good step in the right direction.

    This is exactly why the poster child for bad patents, Amazon's 1-click purchase (i.e. no confirmation) is a terrible example of a bad patent. It's quite an awesome one.

    I came from that era, and earlier. No programmer in their right mind would ever do something so stupid as to let a book get bought and shipped by one click -- "What if the guy accidentally clicked it? There should be a confirming dialog!"

    Bezos say no.

1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes