Patents, or Passion, Dr. Kalyan Kankanala's TED Talk Goes Viral

A TED talk delivered by Dr. Kalyan Kankanala on what motivates inventors has gone viral. The talk has received more than hundred thousand views in a short period of time. In his talk, Dr. Kalyan concludes that patents play no role in motivating inventors. Inventors invent simply because they love to invent.

Inventions touch every facet of our lives but have you ever thought about what makes an inventor want to invent? At a TEDx Talk organized by the NMIMS School of Business Management in Bangalore, Dr. Kalyan C. Kankanala spoke about the role of patents in motivating inventors. Contrary to the popular belief that necessity, monetary benefits and recognition promote inventive activity, Dr. Kalyan says that inventors invent because they love to invent and because they have a burning desire to improve things.

Dr. Kalyan Kankanala, a preeminent IP scholar, is the Managing Partner of BananaIP Counsels, and also teaches at institutions such as the IIM Bangalore and National Law School of India University, Bangalore. He  is a reputed IP expert in India, and advises Fortune 500 companies, SMEs, Start Ups, and international organisations like the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation. Dr. Kalyan is also a reputed  legal thriller novelist, and  author.

Relying on his decade long study, he points out in his  short talk that inventors are happy to get some money and recognition for their inventions, but those do not necessarily play a role in motivating them.
Talking about the patent system, which is designed to promote progress of science and technology for public good, Dr. Kalyan states that the incentive scheme created by patents does not incentivize inventors directly. Patents according to him are business tools, whose primary role is to bring the much needed investments for creating inventions. Citing the example of the pharma sector, which requires atleast 500 million dollars of investment to bring a novel drug into the market, he states that huge investments may be required to create an invention and bring it to the market. Though other fields may require lesser investments, it is well accepted that investments are required for a majority of the inventions for creation, perfection, marketing, and commercialization and so on.

Though patents are indicators of inventive activity, Dr. Kalyan argues that holding a patent does not necessarily mean that one is an inventor. According to him, patents do not necessarily reflect inventions because close to 80 percent of patents granted are actually invalid. Also, the standards for getting a patent are very low and that getting a patent does not necessarily mean that one holds a worthy invention. He cites examples of patents for kicking butt, swinging on a swing, and neutralizing flatulence, while referring to not so worthy inventions that have been patented. He also points out that many valuable inventions like genetically modified animals, medical methods and business methods are excluded from patentability, and so, not holding a patent  on these types of inventions does not necessarily mean that one is not an inventor. Simply put, holding a patent does not mean that one is an inventor, and not holding one does not mean that one is not.

Concluding that patents do not motivate inventors, Dr. Kalyan wonders how inventors can be motivated to create inventions useful to the public. He points out that devising a system to encourage inventors is not easy because different inventors work differently. Edison used to take power naps while working, Archimedes and Nakamatsu think better when they are in the bathroom, and Benjamin Franklin liked to work in an organized manner. Each inventor works differently and it is not easy to devise systems to incentivize them. However, Dr. Kalyan points out that rigid structures in today's corporate environments are surely not suitable for promoting inventive activity. He advises organizations to just let inventors be, if they want the best of inventions.

Speaking about his TED talk, Dr. Kalyan said, "We need the patent system, but not because it  incentivizes inventors. Patents are business tools and play an important role in  raising investment for inventive activity. Most inventors are not driven to invent because they are going to get a patent. Inventors actually don't care if they get a patent or not, they invent simply because they love to invent."

The TED talk has received more than one hundred thousand hits in a very short period of time, and has gone viral. The talk is available on YouTube on the TED channel.