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Nanomedicine Patent Thickets Threaten Future 92

cheesedog writes "Over 5000 nanomedicine/nanotech patents have now been granted, and the patent land grab continues unabated. Dr. Raj Bawa says, "Patent thickets are considered to discourage and stifle innovation. Claims in such patent thickets have been characterized as often broad, overlapping and conflicting - a scenario ripe for massive patent litigation battles in the future." According to Bawa, nanomedicine start-ups may soon find themselves in patent disputes with large, established companies, as well as between themselves. In most of the patent battles the larger entity with the deeper pockets will rule the day even if the innovators are on the other side."
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Nanomedicine Patent Thickets Threaten Future

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  • by Giant Ape Skeleton ( 638834 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @10:47PM (#15031792) Homepage
    The worst thing about Nano Patent Thickets is that they're fractally recursive.
    You can hack your way through them, though...if you've got a small enough machete.
    • by flyingsquid ( 813711 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:12PM (#15031843)
      I warned everyone that nanotech was a bad idea. Now what do we have? Nanopatents. Tiny, self-replicating patents. Soon, they will reproduce and patent everything on the planet, down to the last molecule, at which point all life on earth will drown in a sea of litigation.
      • How many nano patent lawyers do you have to kill and skin to make a pair of patent leather shoes anyway?
        • by Anonymous Coward
          These patents are for things that the technology of today is not yet able to mass produce.
          And in about 17 years the patents will expire.
          While I know that the rate of technical developments might well mean that these things could get into mass production in a decade or so, the net effect is that these patents won't really stymie innovation for very long. I'm half-willing to hope that they think up 90% of fundamental nanotech possibilities NOW and patent them NOW, so that by the time most of them can actua
      • at which point all life on earth will drown in a sea of litigation. A shame we already beat them to it.
      • Already happening. I cant remember the specific article (Wired or Sci American), but a company developed a software program to look at various areas within the bio sciences and determine where a particular product/patent can be made, ironically, the actual product list and patents this autonomous program is finding are worth the investments to see these products come to life.
  • It happens in every industry. Too bad they're gonna sue each other ASAP. Spending money curing people and developing nanotech is just a dream.
    • Are there any industries that patents do encourage innovation for?
      • No. Anyone with deep pockets can outspend and out-litigate someone who actually creates something.

        Like most "intellectual property" ideas, instead of spurring innovation, patents prevent innovation and competition, and push money into the hands of the people who already have it.

    • It happens on the Internet too, with Domain Name squatters. People end up paying quite a bit of money for reasonable names (when they should get them for free).
      And it certainly happens in every other industry: new industries are especially prone to squatters because it's a way to make an easy million.
      However, most/all of these patents are for totally incomplete technologies. Imagine if the designer of the first computer patented the sequence 1001 and made coders pay a $100 fine if that sequence was used i
  • Can someone tell me why this is bad news? Why is the assumption that innovation will be followed by excessive litigation? Even though there have been patent lawsuits that are meritless, I can only see the amount of innovation in this area as a good thing.
    • "Why is the assumption that innovation will be followed by excessive litigation?" - Well, for starts, how about because it's demonstrably true? With the availability of the human genome, we should be seeing an EXPLOSION in the number of drug treatments for various diseases. And yet, how many medicines gained FDA approval in 2005 for use on humans? 20. Yep - lowest number ever. And the reason? Pharmasetical companies are content to keep making the drugs they have patents on, and not to any new research.
      • Vioxx. After that disaster, they're still trying to figure out which end is up. As is typical for a government agency, they have swung from one extreme to the other.
      • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Friday March 31, 2006 @12:05AM (#15031984) Homepage
        With the availability of the human genome, we should be seeing an EXPLOSION in the number of drug treatments for various diseases. And yet, how many medicines gained FDA approval in 2005 for use on humans? 20. Yep - lowest number ever

        What?

        Your thesis is that by knowing the human genome, then drug treatments for diseases logically follow. Sorry, but although that may be the promise of genomics, the actual yield of useful therapeutics remains to be seen. You don't automagically understand the molecular pathways of the normal process and the disease just by staring at the DNA sequence. Lots of hard work, luck, time and money have to get done before a pill rolls out of the bottle. Not that I'm trying to apologize for big pharma's incredible waste and inefficiency, not to mention bizzare and shady business practices (some of which have to do with technology, very little have to do with nanotech).

      • I'd just be happy if they cut it out with the commercials they put on TV just to tell us that they spend incredible amounts of dough on projects to find the pharmaceutical equivalent to the needle in the haystack--and of course on TV commercials so that we can be convinced on how much money they spend trying to do good. What I'd really love to hear is how much they spend on advertisements, versus how much they spend on R&D. I want to see that one on TV during the Wheel of Fortune, so all of the senior
        • What I'd really love to hear is how much they spend on advertisements, versus how much they spend on R&D.

          Sales and Marketing outspends R&D by about 2:1 globally in most big Pharma.
          Frightened the hell out of me when I discovered this (disclaimer: I work in big Pharma) but it would appear to just be the price of competing in the market - rightly or wrongly...
          • Ive heard before that marketing can be nearly 2/3rds of the cost of some drugs... That's crazy!

            The thing that has really bothered me though, was the time I witnessed two pharmaceuticals salesmen harassing doctors (my doctor being one of them) into pushing their new drugs. It was really funny, my doctor avoided them like the plauge. He saw them coming and did a 180! Doctors are busy, and I don't think they should be tasked with doing the job of these salesmen. Doctors shouldn't be in the business of sell
          • If you think that's scary, check out how much of hte budget is for advertising for many other products.

            Jewelry, Cars, Electronics, Soda, Restraunts for example.

            It's huge in most industries.
      • Sorry, this is BS. You really cannot be serious. Let me summarize your argument: You believe that because drug companies already have patents, they don't want to develop new drugs because they can just sell drugs they already have patents on. If that's the case, why are all the drug companies spending billions on R&D? Are they just doing it for fun? No, they want to come up with treatments for diseases. Have you considered the possibility that it's not easy to come up with genetic treatments? Also, have
    • by Anonymous Coward
      "Why is the assumption that innovation will be followed by excessive litigation?"

      That's not the assumption at all. The assumption is that 5000 patents doesn't equal 5000 inventions. Far more likely, it means 4000 obvious applications of things whose true inventors will never see a cent, 990 "land-grab" patents which don't cover anything real but will be used to sue the pants off anyone doing anything real in the future, and, being extremely generous, 10 truly groundbreaking creations.
    • Its bad news because if someone tried to patent A Method of Using Nanotechnology To Cure Mammalian Organic Diseases and was granted the license, then that person can sue almost everyone who comes up with a nano*** to cure any human diseases.

      It's like someone getting a patent for A Method of Protecting Human Habitats from the Elements. Everyone who builds a roof over a house now owes a license fees to the patent holder. OK, so there is prior art with roofs, but is there such a prior art with the new and

      • The US government (and others) have been claiming that needs export controls since the days when disk drives were the size of washing machines. During the IRAQ situation, they claimed Saddam was buying Playstation 2 consoles to turn into parts for WMDs.
      • Patent landgrabs are done pretty much according to the following method:

        a) Make a list of existent business processes
        b) Make a cross list of all entries from a) with all latest technology trend words/expressions (eg "over a network", "wireless", "with nanobots ). Thus for example "A method to deliver text messages" can become "A method to deliver text messages over a network" (e-mail/im) or "A method to wirelessly deliver text messages" (eg sms).
        c) Patent as many as you can
        d) Wait a couple of years
        e) Sue th
      • OK, so there is prior art with roofs, but is there such a prior art with the new and exciting field of nanotechnology? I guess not.

        Actually, there is: your body is prior art that nanotechnology works. Many of the processes that are being patented are processes that your body already carries out.

        Anyway, nanotech will allow us to leave the planet without the need to come back. So I don't put much stock into artificial systems of scarcity like "the patent system on planet Earth" because there are man

    • Let's be realistic. Innovation in health care is wasted effort in the US. Your health insurance, if you even have any, isn't going to pay for treatment using this technology within your lifetime. And no matter how good the technology is, you are going to die sooner or later, anyway. But, until you kick the bucket, you can have a healthy life. This is already possible for most of us without nanotechnology-- it just requires an attitude of care for the machinery.
    • It's bad news because it isn't innovation. Remember, the inventor does not have to be the person who submits the patent. Take this patent [uspto.gov] for example; a patent on comb-overs for bald people! That's not innovation. That's a guy who wants to make money from sueing the crap out of others. Or how about this? [uspto.gov](a patent on swinging side to side on a swingset). Or this? [uspto.gov] (well, ok, a paddle-wheel plane is innovative, but I wouldn't want to fly it). Or this? [uspto.gov] (a device for moistening stamps: "The applicator ma
    • Um, what innovation? Seems these days the people who are filing the patents are the ones who AREN'T innovating. They patent something incredibly broad and then sit around until someone who actually is interested in innovating figures it's cheaper to buy them than go to court.
    • Why is the assumption that innovation will be followed by excessive litigation?

      The problem is that the innovations that are being patented haven't happened for the most part yet. That is, people rush out and patent ideas for applications of nanotechnology without actually having done the hard work of actually developing them, and that discourages people from making the massive investments of actually making them work.
    • by Flyboy Connor ( 741764 ) on Friday March 31, 2006 @02:48AM (#15032355)
      Compare it with domain names.

      There was a time when the Internet did not exist. Suddenly it was there, and there was a way of navigating it easily from scratch: by using domain names. The problem was that every domain name had to be unique. Big companies jumped in quickly and reserved .com. A few small companies were also lucky. Then we saw the rise of the domain-name-grabber: suddenly EVERY domain name .com, .net, .org, and . was registered. The domain name grabbers had no use for any of these names, they just wanted to place their big butt in a spot that was desirable, even necessary, to occupy by others, so that they could receive a fat stack of bills to move that butt.

      There is not much difference between the domain-name-grab and the patent-grab. It is not that hard to generate patents nowadays. It is no longer required to have an actual implementation of a patent ready, it is enough to formulate an idea. Hell, I could (with the help of a lawyer) write a computer program that generates patent claims and automatically sends them off to the USPTO. Most of the texts will be silly, but a few will have meaning; those will be awarded (maybe I make it sound a bit too easy here, you need to do a prior art search for each patent claim, but I guess I can come up with a program that uses the text of previously awarded patents to generate new patents, and then list those previously awarded patents as prior art). The only snag is that it costs too much money to get all those patent claims verified. But with a little bit of insight, it is pretty easy to write down a patent claim (by hand) for something that does not exist yet, but that someone will probably invent in the coming ten years. Maybe only one in ten of such patent claims will actually come true, but if your pockets are deep enough, no problem: the one that actually comes true will bring in enough dough in the end to make you rich. At the expense of the actual innovator.

      But it is worse: even those patent claims that seem to be worthless can be made worthwhile by a lawyer who just starts litigating some successful startup claiming that they violated this worthless patent. The startup might see that the claim is worthless, but cannot afford the costs involved in defending his case, and rather pay off the shark on his back. And make no mistake: the patent troll companies are all filled with lawyers and only lawyers; they make their living by sueing the crap out of people who actually produce something.

      So, it is not "the more patents, the worse we are off", but "the more worthless patents without supporting implementation, in the hands of patent trolls, the worse we are off."

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Sigh, another day at slashdot of patent bashing.

        If I think flying cars are going to be produced in the next 10 years. I can't get a patent just by writing a claim that says:

        1. An apparatus comprising:
        a car; and
        a flight engine attached to said car allowing said car to fly.

        There is really nothing wrong with this claim, the problem is going to come in the description. 35 U.S.C. 112 is the written description, and it requires the specification (the part before the claims) and figures to adequately support th
        • Yep, that might be true. However, the problem is that the USPTO employees are notoriously inadequate in recognizing what is fluffy and what is not. So they grant these fluffy patents, as you also seem to admit. Now, the patent might in itself be worthless, but sueing someone over it might not be. Faced with years of litigation and continuously rising costs of a defense lawyer, most small business will pay off the patent extortionist, even if he only sports fluffly patents.
      • Yeah, it sounds good on paper, BUT. Would you care to now write HOW you are going to implement "worthy patents with feasible implementation" ? :))) 100 years ago a single man could know, or at least understand an idea in all existing science fields. Nowadays there's so much science and technology research (and publications) that no single man can ever have an overview and judge what constitutes an "idea" and what is actually implementable. If its a crossdisciplinary idea then the patent clecr would lack o
        • True. And that is exactly which the USPTO is unfit to judge the validity of patent claims. And that is also why so many overly broad, trivial, and just worthless patents are actually awarded. That, and the fact that they get paid for each patent awarded, which is why they (a) tend to be in favor of awarding the patent, and (b) try to spend the least amount of time possible on a patent.
    • Ya know, that's truly a good idea. I realize that the /. sentiment towards patents is a very negative one, but we all too often forget that because of patents some serious innovation has occured that would not have without them. The entire pharmaceutical industry, as flawed as it is, would not exist without the protection patents provide them. Millions of dollars of research is risked to treat illnesses and help up cope with our daily afflictions, and would not have been created if there was no possibili
      • by Anonymous Coward
        you dont get it .. they are patenting overbroad generalizations. I can sit here and spout out hundreds of combinations of things without any knowledge of science whatsoever and patent them all, and hope one or two of them get a hit. This is especially true with medicines. Patent entire classes of chemicals, as well as "cause and effects" and then when someone does research and finds that a specific one in that is useful .. you get paid.

        Sounds nice ... but what will actually happen is that nobody will do the
    • I was just recently at a conference with several venture capital guys doing work on nano-technology. Those guys are pouring money into nano-tech and I doubt they would be doing that if they didn't have patents.

      I'm not saying the patent system doesn't have problems, but that patents DO play an extremely important role in creating the incentives to develop technology and to bring certain technologies to market. Even after a researcher/inventor has a completely working prototype, I think most people underest

      • You say: " patents DO play an extremely important role in creating the incentives"

        The fact is there is no real scientific evidence to this matter. A Patent is a granted monpoly. It is interesting that irrespective, a good idea will be built and sold. Companies do not stop competing once the patent expires. It seems to me that the patent does not function to ensure the production of beneficial ideas, it exists and is used to exploit the excessive profit potenital of a monpoly.

        Most ideas, where good and viabl
      • patents DO play an extremely important role in creating the incentives to develop technology and to bring certain technologies to market.

        I have to disagree here. I think that people think that patents provide incentives. I do not think that is quite accurate. The subtle thing is that the incentive is not "we will help you if you make this" but "we will prevent anyone else from making this unless you let them".

        Pharmaceutacals especially: society will likely always provide material resources for "health

    • Why is the assumption that innovation will be followed by excessive litigation?

      It seems to be in our nature [bbc.co.uk]. (yet another example of a patent land grab)
  • Great News!!!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dr_Marvin_Monroe ( 550052 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:06PM (#15031830)
    Why of course, the sooner these folks are granted their "over-broad" patents, the sooner they'll expire, leaving the field WIDE-OPEN.....

    Perhaps we could see a situation where the first of these patents are expiring before the first real nano-technology is available! By all means guys... get your patents in early, the earlier the better.

    I seem to recall there was a catch though....Didn't you need to actually be able to "do" the thing you were going to patent? I seem to recall that was part of the test, that it actually needed to be possible at the time you were patenting something, not just a crack-pipe dream....
    • Problem is, patents can be renewed - so a 17 year patent can really be a 34 wait for innovation.

      Do you really want to wait that long? What if it helped you live longer? Would you really be waiting that long before other companies can touch it?

      I seem to recall that was part of the test, that it actually needed to be possible at the time you were patenting something, not just a crack-pipe dream....

      Used to be, but I think the USPTO has been inspired by Martin Luther King Jr in the meantime.

      MLK: "I have a dre

      • Re:Great News!!!! (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Oh, SNAP! That's it. I have hit my breaking point with Slashdot.

        Problem is, patents can be renewed - so a 17 year patent can really be a 34 wait for innovation.

        I want an explanation for this statement. I demand that you stand up and explain where on Earth you discovered this renewable 17 year patent term, with citations to the compiled laws or civil code of the country in question. I mean it.

        Why? Because I have been an IP attorney for years, and I know that this statement is pure fantasy. Patents have n
    • I seem to recall there was a catch though....Didn't you need to actually be able to "do" the thing you were going to patent? I seem to recall that was part of the test, that it actually needed to be possible at the time you were patenting something, not just a crack-pipe dream....

      Unfortunately no. Here [slashdot.org] is an excellent example of such a case. I believe there was also some patents on hyper drives but I can't find the link. Anyways, I fully agree with you, let them patent away. Hopefully we will have a paten

    • A thought. Perhaps, this whole patent issue is just a metter of perspective. Perhaps, from a top down viewpoint, our governments do not care about these issues because in reality they benefit from them.

      For instance;
      *Would you prefer to deal with many small companies or a few large ones?
      *Would dealing with a few companies allow for better forcasting?
      *Would you prefer to deal with people you know, or people you don't?

      If smaller companies are litigated out of existence in patent litigation, then how does the
  • At least we can expect really finite, well defined patents. If you are patenting something on a nano scale then you must be able to finitely define it.

    If only it worked that way.
  • In most of the patent battles the larger entity with the deeper pockets will rule the day even if the innovators are on the other side

    And this is different from any other patent battle, or any other legal battle whatsoever... how, again?
  • by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:24PM (#15031877) Homepage Journal

    This "article" is really a press release from a company [nanowerk.com] that serves as "the missing link between buyers and suppliers of nanomaterials." However, Dr. Bawa seems to be someone who knows a lot about the subject and has been talking about this [nanotechnology.com] to anyone who will listen.

    My knowledge of nanotech could fill a nanotube, but I pay attention when someone who does seem to be deeply involved in nanotech raises the alarm about this tide of patents.

    • By the powers invested in me, I now declare all patents null and void. Voila, problem solved, now we can get on with innovation instead of legal battles.
  • What happens when other counties? Seriously? What can the USA realistically do? Impose sactions and/or invade the infringing countries?
  • Foreign Front (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Saeed al-Sahaf ( 665390 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:44PM (#15031926) Homepage
    I think one of the fronts for patent reform will come from outside the US border, when other countries finally wise up and simply make it their national policy to ignore stupid patents (or all patents).
    • I think China is already leading on that front. The same with those pesky copyrights, too.
      • I think China is already leading on that front. The same with those pesky copyrights, too.

        Think again: Ministry of Science and Technology: Policies and Regulations [most.gov.cn]

        As for copyright: The Chinese government is interested in protecting its domestic cultural institututions and industries from cheap (pirated) foreign imports. It also would also like to see Chinese culture exported as successfully and profitably as the Western product.

    • The problem with that is that the US leans pretty heavily on other countries to accept American concepts of intellectual property.

      Countries get in troubles and treaties don't get signed if they try to do things like that.
      • The reason for this is that the three major source incomes of the us industry is weapons, ip and patents (well patents is a wannabe cash in)

        to sum it up if patents and ip would be ignored on a major scale the US industry would go down the drain to a big degree, hence the more and more draconian laws fostering a pyramid scheme in this area. The whole issue revolves around that the draconian schemes the US are building are either bound to fail or will backfire on a huge scale. The research and production i
    • >> other countries finally wise up and simply make it their national policy to ignore stupid patents (or all patents).

      Well it's not for want of trying, but we're being ignored.

      We need public soundbites and catchy phrases and other tidbits for the news media to pick up on and ride with, in order to give anti-patent activism a higher public profile.

      The logical/commonsense approach just isn't working so far. The politicians have been totally ignoring everyone except the megacorps, who have a vested inte
    • Actually, this popped up some time back on Slashdot.

      Back at the beginning of the 20th century, Theatre was in New York, but the new movie industry grew up in Hollywood.

      Why, because the Theatre industry had the whole thing sewn up, from the (now called) I.P. laws governing usage of productions to the workers, both on and back stage who brought them to life. Movies never had a chance, starting with all of this baggage. So they moved as far away as possible - to the opposite end of the country.

      Nanotech *was* p
  • I think nanotech patents should be allowed, provided that they are printed on really small paper. The way patents are going nowadays, a whole tree will get killed just to get a printout and some poor old lady at the patent office will break her back when filing it, thereby requiring a nanotech cure in the first place.
  • By patenting all aspects of nanotech now, there will be lots of prior art in the expired patents when the technology really takes off in a few decades. If enough stuff can be patented now, there won't be a whole lot left to patent when we're actually ready to start building nanomachines of the complexity envisioned by sci-fi authors.
  • if you think nanotech coming before AI [singinst.org] is a bad thing. Let the conspiracy theories begin!
  • 20 years till guns (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    mark my words:

    In 20 years (give or take) the medical patent fiasco will have led / be leading to violent warfare. Everything from 'insurgents' (read: terrorists / read parents who don't have 100 grand for their kids cancer) to invasions of countries that are violating some (Bush family read: Phizer) intellectual property feudal land holdings. It's not a coincidence that the US pharm industry is stacked with 'retired' air force generals and military industrial profiteers.

    mark my words and sign me

    Anonymous Co
  • Suppose I'm some scientist who makes a nano-biotech break-through (NBTBT). Then I look at this big pile of overbroad patents of supposed NBTBTs. I must say the thought would cross my mind that I should simply take all my work, and move to a country that is more innovation-friendly rather than a collective bunch of money grabbing litigators.

    For the true Einstein like scientist, what would be his/her motivation to stay in a western country? Seriously?

    If this doesn't change then in 50 years time we are goi

    • Suppose I'm some scientist who makes a nano-biotech break-through (NBTBT). Then I look at this big pile of overbroad patents of supposed NBTBTs. I must say the thought would cross my mind that I should simply take all my work, and move to a country that is more innovation-friendly rather than a collective bunch of money grabbing litigators. For the true Einstein like scientist, what would be his/her motivation to stay in a western country? Seriously?

      And where do you expect to sell the end product of this

      • How much money does a research team need? What sort of methods could provide that money?

        A new technology like nano biotech needs space to breathe. The thing I'm worried about is that other countries may be advancing, but in the US the base research is getting stifled before it even gets off the ground, and thus in 50 years the other countries will have quite a head start on such technology.

    • Dont worry if the us follows the route of IP as it does not, there wont be a market to sell the patent encumbered stuff there, you already can safely ignore the US market, if you want nowadays.
  • China and America (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tehanu ( 682528 ) on Friday March 31, 2006 @05:29AM (#15032760)
    In China from the Ming dynasty onwards the bureaucrats strangled innovation allowing the West to catch up and starting from the mid-19th century overtake it (a famous example is Zheng He's fleet). The result was the collapse of what had for most of human history had been the largest economy in the world (China) and the rise of the West. Looks like America's patent system is going to repeat history.
  • Well the article is interesting in that at least people now recognize publically that patenting some technology is viewed as the best way to stiffle competition. This is probably not surprising to most slashdotters but opinions like this are important outside the geek community.

    This really tells how a system that was devised to foster inovation by disclosing discoveries (i.e. help build the competition) is now used as a way to do the exact opposite thanks to various flaws in our current economic model, name
  • I know this will get flamed to hell by all those who know better, but if you can follow the idea/intent and not so much the specifics....

    So here's my idea, extremely shorten the life of a patent! (Say 5 years.)

    Reasoning: A company or person spends some time, some money, thinks about it and comes up with this great innovative thing. As a reward for this they are allowed to do whatever the hell they want with it for the time period to establish themselves as a brand, develop the technology etc... If they'
  • I read: Over 5000 nanomedicine/nanotech patients have been granted..

    Great! Nanomedicine for the Nano patients!
    I once knew a dog named Nano.
    soo.... I'll just go back to work now.. yes..
  • In jury trials, it's been found that the independent inventor wins nearly 75% of the time, while in bench trials the ratio is more like 50%.

    In any case, I really doubt that many individuals could do anything in nanomedicine without the resources of a corporation or academic institution.
  • Nano-med-plus, we treat you right.
    When the world treats you rough.
  • A more apt description you will never find. It's good that some people see things as they really are. Innovation...Phooey!
  • Why is everyone so obsessed with patents? Who says you actually need patents to spin something off? Trade secrets are perfectly OK with venture capitalists (you print it on a piece of paper - you show them at your first meeting), as long as you can prove you can keep them even after a product release on the market, i.e. that its not reverse engineerable. And that is simple: if you are the only person in the world who has a "secret recipe" how to make a particular nanotech device (like a device that uses inf

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