Patently Good Business

Honoring intellectual property rights within our industry benefits everyone

The first patent was issued in 1421, to an Italian architect for invention of a specialized boat to transport construction materials to building sites. In issuing it, the city-state of Florence recognized that inventors needed protection from those who would use their inventions without paying fair compensation. The document even spelled out consequences for illegal duplication: the copycat boat was to be publicly burned!

Some 350 years later, the U.S. “founding fathers” recognized the need to provide economic incentives to foster inventions, by including Article 1 in the Constitution: “Congress shall have the power…to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” It’s been argued much of the high standard of living in North America -- where patent rights are widely respected and protected -- results from this history.

The environmental technology industry has numerous businesses that are financially viable largely due to their patented inventions. There’s been an unusual amount of conflict and litigation related to patent rights and infringement, particularly in the area of groundwater remediation using zero valent iron. Such conflict is usually avoided if those who seek to use a patented invention contact the owner and secure a license. It’s certainly far wiser than taking the risky path of building a copycat boat without one -- only to have it burned!

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

About the Author

Alan Seech, PhD is CEO of The Adventus Group. He earned M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in soil chemistry and environmental microbiology, respectively, from the University of Guelph, and holds several patents.

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