Thursday, May 11, 2006

Plot Impossible

I saw Mission Impossible III last week. Even if I wanted to give the plot away I couldn't. It wasn't really given to me. [I mean if anyone can tell me what the threat to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was this time, I'd like to know]. Suffice it to say I am happy to review it as "not as stupid as Mission Impossible II."

Now I think enough time has passed that I can give the plot of MI:II away so let me explain. In that movie, an Australian biotech company. Let me pause there. I know I should be pleased with the idea that it was plausible that an Australian company was responsible for an "innovation" that drove the plot of a Hollywood Blockbuster but, for reasons I'll explain, there is not a lot of shine there.

Back to the plot: in that movie, an Australian biotech company invents a cure to a major virus that could easily infect and kill the world's population. It patents it but here is the kicker, it has also invented the virus itself. The villan, who owns stock options in the biotech start-up, intends to release the virus, wait a little, then announce and sell the cure for what promises to be a sum near to the entire wealth of the world. They have the patent after all and, therefore, a monopoly.

On the face of it this seems like a great commercialisation strategy. However, the plan really reinforces the problems with commercialisation strategy. They are going to make money here only if the patent stands up. The problem is that when you are extorting the world's governments to buy the cure for the virus, the world's government might just realise: "hey, didn't we grant them this intellectual monopoly in the first place?" You can see the rest. Me thinks they might void the patent (which they can do) rather than pay out trillions to the Australian start-up.

So Tom Cruise really could have just stayed at home. This was hardly an impossible mission this time.

From this perspective, while the movie improves the reputation of Australian start-ups for inventiveness, it undermines them for the next step: commercialisation. If true, as I have suggested before, it also means that the government shouldn't be pouring more money into research capital but instead should think about how to improve commericialisation decisions and strategies.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

If Tom Cruise had stayed home, then our patenting system would have been weakened when the government cancelled the biotech's patent. What incentive would future villains have to develop new viruses?