By Dunyang Li
In his new book “Future Perfect”, Steven Johnson introduced about the Royal Society of Arts that gave birth to a series of breakthrough inventions in industrial revolution. He pointed it out that the true genius of RSA is the “PREMIUM” that was delivered to thousands of innovations such as spinning wheels, mechanical telegraphs and brocade weaving.
As society moves forward, the patent and license have been created to protect the intellectual property rights. On the one hand, this stimulates big corporations especially big pharmaceutical companies to produce innovation. But on the other hand, it goes against the open exchange of ideas among peer networks. To tackle this contradiction, a group of people in US resembles the spirit of RSA and creates a premium for those who make innovations. For example, Sanders Pharmaceutical Prizes and X Prize Founders (www.xprize.org) were created to provide robust premium for winners but mandate them share their innovation in an open-source style and give up their attempt to patent their discoveries.
Similarly in the field of clean energy, this problem is also common. Big companies like GE and BP have hundreds of patents on energy-saving products so that people who use it for the sake of environmental protection would pay a high price for it. Therefore, in the field of clean energy, we also need this kind of revolution that flatten the arena and reduce the barrier of patents. By offering more prize-backed challenges and contests, we may expect a more affordable energy-saving products and a brighter era of innovation.