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A Patent System for the 21st Century
extending patenting to computer software, genetically modified organisms, nucleic acid molecules, and methods of performing business functions;
lengthening the duration of copyright protection and extending the term of some patents;
encouraging universities and nonprofit research institutions to acquire and exercise patent rights;
strengthening the position of rights holders versus alleged infringers;
giving federal protection to trade secrets; and
relaxing antitrust scrutiny of patent use and arrangements.
Curiosity about the effects of these actions led the STEP Board to organize a series of meetings with legal scholars, economists, practitioners, technologists, and corporate managers. In 1999 the board held roundtable discussions in New Haven, Connecticut, hosted by Yale University, and in Berkeley, California, hosted by the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology at Boalt Hall. In February 2000 a two-day STEP conference at the National Academies’ headquarters in Washington drew more than 400 participants to discuss Intellectual Property Rights: How Far Should They Be Extended?
It was apparent from these discussions that whatever their long-term economic effect, the patent policy changes instituted in the 1980s and 1990s were associated with much more vigorous acquisition, assertion, and enforcement of intellectual property rights than occurred before 1980. Several participants in the meetings, primarily representatives and observers of the information technology and telecommunications sectors, expressed concern about the high costs associated with the acquisition and exercise of IPRs and with the need to develop stronger defensive intellectual property (IP) positions in a litigious environment. Others, primarily academics and representatives of the pharmaceutical industry, voiced concerns about the extension of IP rights to tools and materials of biomedical research, possibly inhibiting the conduct of research and commercial application of its results. A common theme was that the escalation in the number of patents, possibly encouraged by a lowering of the threshold to their acquisition, was creating thickets of rights that could impede innovation by making it difficult or impossible to negotiate access on affordable terms to all of the IP necessary to commercialize a new product or service.
The board concluded that intellectual property policy should be an important part of its agenda and that it should focus initially on the operation of the patent system. The need for specialized legal and technical expertise to carry out a study leading to policy recommendations in these areas led the board to propose to the National Academies the creation of the Committee on Intellectual Property Rights in the Knowledge-Based Economy, composed of economists specializing in intellectual property and technological change, legal scholars, practitioners from corporations and private law practice, biomedical scientists, managers of research and business development in the information technology (IT) sector, a former