CERN collides with a patent reality

You might imagine that vast patent royalties flow into the organisation that invented the touchscreen and the World Wide Web. But the atom-smashing outfit CERN, cradle of both these technologies, doesn't make a bean from either.

The particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, has been reluctant to patent the inventions it creates in pursuit of exotic subatomic entities. But it hopes that will soon change: last week, it struck a deal with the United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to ensure that it profits better from its engineers' innovations in fields like imaging, computing, particle detection and superconducting magnets, says international relations adviser Maurizio Bona.

CERN owes its historic aversion to patenting to its 20 European member states, says spokesman James Gillies. They pump millions of euros into the organisation every year to help develop new technologies – and don't want to have to pay to use the inventions in their own country. "So we have to square a circle: how do we protect the technology without double-billing member states?"


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