I have to say that our way is better. Yes, there are flaws to our patent system, patenting human genes comes to mind, but overall I think its better. Just think, how torked off would you be if someone just copied everything you'd labored over writing, and then sold it as their original work? Yes, I'm glad for cheaper generic drugs - but I still remember that it's the money from the patented brand drugs that funds the research to develop newer ones. Without that, it would take significantly longer to see new medicines. As for the cheaper goods made in China, do you really want the kind of pollution and slave labor wages that they have to be the standard over here?
There is one glaring problem with Alan's assertion. The money from on patent drugs does not pay for research into new drugs.
Taxpayers pay for research into new drugs. Grants from the National Institute of Health normally fund the research, but the intellectual property that comes out of that research belongs to the researcher or the higher education institution that conducted the research.
Once a researcher gets to the point where they can patent a new drug, a Big Pharma company buys the rights to that patent. Taxpayer funded research is transferred to the private sector.
Once Big Pharma has the rights to the drug they begin the process of bringing the drug to market. This means double blind control studies to get FDA approval. This is the only form of "research" that Big Pharma does to bring a drug to market. Although it is expensive to conduct large scale clinical trials, the profit margin for bringing an on patent drug to market is huge, so Big Pharma has no problem footing the bill for clinical trials. These clinical trials do not have to show that a new drug is better than an older drug, just that the new drug is better than a placebo.
Now here is the tricky part, the patent for the drug that was given to the original researchers at the university starts the timeline for the patent to the drug. This means that Big Pharma has to rush quickly through clinical trials and FDA approval if they want to maximize their monopoly through the patent. This also means that any time they can slap a different patent on the same drug (such as coating, shape, color, etc) they can renew the on patent life for the drug.
It is cost effective for Big Pharma to put ridiculous patents on drugs, even if they know they will lose in court, because lawyers will extend the on patent monopoly of the drug as long as the case is in court. Big Pharma doesn't have to win in court, they just have to stay in court long enough to make money.
This is why Chinese companies are making the "HiPad" and "aPad" using similar hardware and Google Android OS. It is not an iPad, it is simply a tablet PC that fills the same role as an iPad. They don't have to worry about going to court with Apple. The idea of a tablet PC has been around for decades, it is nothing new. But Apple can go to court in the US and get a legal injunction to cease and desist, or get awarded royalties, because they brought the first commercially successful tablet PC to the market in the US.
Patents exist so that people who do original work can enjoy a market monopoly. Unfortunately the guy who invented the airbag never saw a dime for his invention, because by the time airbag installation was mandatory his invention was in the public domain. The wheel of fate rewards some, punishes others, and success may be 95% hard work, but the rest of it is simple luck.
I have an iPhone. It's a good phone, and a fun little toy. Do I think I'll buy another? Maybe, they get pretty cheap with the upgrade plan from AT&T. Am I tempted to buy a "hiPhone" that runs Android? Oh hell yes, because I really don't like the closed software model that Apple has. Is Android any better because it is Linux based? That is an individual decision to make, but I am a big fan of open source solutions.