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Eight MIT Nobelists protest patent legislation

Eight MIT Nobel laureates are among the 24 Nobelists who have signed a letter to the US Senate protesting a bill passed by the House of Representatives that would effect several changes in US patent law.

The Nobelists argue that Senate bill S 507, intended to speed up the patent process and overhaul the US Patent and Trademark Office, would harm small inventors while affording relatively greater protection to large multinational corporations. The legislation would allow trade secrets to remain secret indefinitely while also requiring that all patent applications be published 18 months after filing, regardless of whether or not they have been approved.

Under another provision, companies that independently developed a technology but did not apply for a patent could have limited "prior use" rights. The changes would facilitate the theft of inventors' intellectual property rights "and thereby discourage the flow of new inventions that have contributed so much to America's superior performance in the advancement of science and technology," the signatories say.

The letter campaign was organized by Franco Modigliani and Robert Solow, both Institute Professors emeritus in economics. Others MIT signatories are Paul Samuelson, also an Institute Professor emeritus in economics; Mario Molina, the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies in earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences and in chemistry; Clifford Shull, professor emeritus in physics; Har Gobind Khorana, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Biology and Chemistry, emeritus; Henry Kendall, the Julius A. Stratton Professor of Physics; and Institute Professor Jerome Friedman of physics.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 17, 1997.

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