To patent, or not to patent?

Throughout the winter term, students in the Barcelona GSE's MSc in the Economics of Science and Innovation (MESI) have had access to a variety of tools and resources that helped them develop informed opinions about the role of patents in the innovation process. Faculty experts from key industries opened their playbooks to students, incorporating their professional know-how into the course syllabus. Students examined patents in depth in their winter course, Intellectual Property Rights and the Patent Ecosystem [pdf]. That course is co-taught by two professors who live and breathe in the patent ecosystem: Prof. Pascual Segura is a patent attorney and director of the Patent Centre at the University of Barcelona; Prof. Guillaume Durville is Patent Development Manager for the worldwide Imaging and Printing Division of Hewlett-Packard.

Field trips: the innovation process in action

Visits to private and public firms, scientific installations, and research transfer organizations form part of the MESI curriculum in all three terms. As they did last year, program director Prof. Salvador Barbarà (UAB and Barcelona GSE) and other expert faculty guided students on visits to top research centers around Barcelona (several of the centers are directed by the professors themselves).

mesi_salvadorbarbera photo

Video: GSE Site visiting

Visits included:

  • Barcelona Supercomputing Center
  • Grifols Plasma Derivatives
  • Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO)
  • Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona)
  • Prysmian Cables and Systems
  • Slideshow: Field Visits

Patents in context: insights from peers

At the end of the winter term, students applied the tools they'd acquired by forming teams to evaluate the effectiveness of patents in an industry of their choosing. Each team had 30 minutes to make its case to classmates in their Economics of Innovation course, taught by deputy program director Prof. David Pérez-Castrillo (UAB and Barcelona GSE). Prof. Pérez-Castrillo instructed students to deliver their presentations as though making a case before a prime minister or other public official.

"This is a typical real-world situation," Prof. Pérez-Castrillo told students. "You are the expert being asked to advise decision-makers. You must present your arguments clearly and concisely for an audience that does not necessarily have the training in economics or science that you do."

In addition to clarity, Prof. Pérez-Castrillo emphasized the importance of teamwork in delivering a compelling presentation. "Take ownership of your research, but do so as a team," he said. "You will deliver your conclusions to the client as a team, not as three individual advisors."

The diverse perspectives of classmates from a broad range of geographic, professional, and academic backgrounds catalyzed the patent debate during and after the presentations.

During his team's presentation on software patents (verdict: ineffective), student Robert Nibali cited research by MESI professor Stefano Trento (UAB and Barcelona GSE) and recent GSE Lecture speaker Prof. Suzanne Scotchmer (UC Berkeley). Mr. Nibali's background in computer science and open-source software engineering informed his arguments against patents in this industry. Co-presenter Maja Nikolic approached the topic as a former database manager; Saurab Paruthi, as a former software developer at Microsoft. 

Daniel Kupka, who has an economics background, took the audience through an overview of the pharmaceutical industry, arguing that patents are necessary to counterbalance the market's state of imperfect competition. His team-mate Fernanda Leal smoothly picked up the argument from there, citing her medical experience as doctor in Mexico. A student in the audience, Ajay Thutupalli, agreed with the team's analysis of intellectual property theft in the case of a drug produced in India, Mr. Thutupalli's home country. Other students drew connections to field visits with Dr. Joan Bigorra to Hospital Clínic or to Vall d'Hebron Hospital with Dr. Joan Comella in the follow-up debate.

To conclude his team's presentation, student Javier Rodríguez shared a quote from Abraham Lincoln: "The patent system adds the fuel of interest to the fire of genius."

While all industries may not benefit from the use of patents, the benefit of the MESI program's multifaceted approach is clear to Mr. Rodríguez.

"Introducing technical expertise from backgrounds as diverse as medicine, engineering or social science to economics, MESI enables a grasp of reality which goes beyond the sometimes navel-gazing prone approach of pure economic science, without declining the acquisition of elegant economic tools by its students," he said.

Working in teams, MESI students made a case for or against patents, just as they might do when advising policy-makers in the real world.

Student Javier Rodríguez, an industrial engineer from Bolivia, quoted Abraham Lincoln: "The patent system adds the fuel of interest to the fire of genius."

Students suit up for a tour of the Grifols plasma derivatives production area.

"In Favor of Patents: the Case of the Pharmaceutical Sector" by MESI students Daniel Kupka, Fernanda Leal, and Javier Rodríguez.


Video: GSE Students and site visiting

Read more about GSE Master Programs