This paper — based on a talk McDonald (University of Sheffield, United Kingdom) gave at QUNO — considers the costs and benefits of the patent system. The paper gives examples showing that the costs would seem to be considerable and their distribution as uneven as that of the benefits.

Staring out with a 'conventional' view of patents, the author then considers the use of patents in practice. He warns that the patent system is ripe for abuse, and that such exploitation is deliberately hidden from those who bear its costs. The author concludes that the greatest cost to society is that the patent system is, in fact, 'anti-innovative'.

This is a readable and personal account of the rationale, history and shortcomings of the patent system.