Research Handbooks in Intellectual Property series
Edited by Christophe Geiger
Chapter 25: Human dignity and patents
In the early ’90s, the Open University used to offer a Philosophy course entitled ‘Life and Death’ which paid homage to the rich diversity of moral and religious views on the value of human life. Two decades later metaphysical questions about human dignity, the meaning of life, its beginning and its end have made their way into patent law and been taken up by patent tribunals and transnational central courts in Europe. This chapter argues that this is an unnecessary and unwelcome development to address legitimate public concerns about the adverse impact of patents on access to knowledge and essential medicines. The internalization and transplantation of human dignity and human rights within the formal structure of the patent system, this chapter argues, carries the risk of cutting across regulatory frameworks on research and the system of constitutional protection of fundamental human rights in democratic societies. The argument falls into four parts. The first part charts the rise of human dignity in international law and European human rights law and the increasing ‘thinning’ of the concept of human dignity into an abstract indeterminate concept in the new wave of bio-rights instruments. The second part draws on recent scholarship on the history of human rights which underscores the political malleability of human rights as a moral utopia.
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