Friday, March 11, 2011

Après Loi Le Déluge

Preparing for rare natural disasters, such as the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, is vitally important, if human tragedies are to be minimized.  The invention of technologies useful in disasters, such as earthquake-resilient buildings, pharmaceutical drugs to treat outbreaks of disease, and even logistical methods, may be spurred by policy tools as diverse as patents, innovation prizes, and protection for open, user, and collaborative innovation.  Thus far, patents have received the most attention.  Here is the abstract an article entitled Patents to the Rescue - Disasters and Patent Law:
The patent system can play a vital role in preparing for, mitigating, reacting to, and preventing disasters. In the far term, it ensures that society continually improves its technological capacity to deal with disasters. In the near term, the patent system includes a diversity of legal options for ensuring access to patented inventions needed in disasters. Foreseeable and surprise disasters require different legal approaches to ensure timely access to patented inventions while ensuring that society is able to continue enhancing both its general and specific technological capacities. Accomplishing optimal results requires careful balancing of far term and near term interests, respect for both international and United States patent law, a clear understanding of the interrelation of different aspects of patent law, insight into the incentives that drive technological innovation, and appreciation of the disparate challenges posed by different kinds of disasters. When employed wisely, the patent system can offer society powerful assistance to prevent, prepare for, and mitigate disasters.
The entire article is available here for free download.  Once the immediate crisis passes, in Japan and its Pacific neighbors, policy makers should reevaluate how best to promote technological innovations useful in preventing and responding to natural disasters.  The more natural disaster-related innovation can be encouraged, the more likely it is that the next natural disaster will take fewer lives than the disaster that preceded it.