Patents, Human Rights and Access to Science

Patents, Human Rights and Access to Science

Aurora Plomer

The new millennium has been described as ‘the century of biology’, but scientific progress and access to medicines has been marred by global disputes over ownership of the science by universities and private companies. This book examines the challenges posed by the modern patent system to the right of everyone to access the benefits of science in international law.

Chapter 7: Conclusion

Aurora Plomer

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, intellectual property law


Intellectual property rights and patents were controversially extended to isolated genes and cells in the US since the 1980s and have become a global phenomenon since, raising profound moral and legal challenges for patent offices and constitutional courts around the world. At the heart of these challenges lies the question of the balance between public rights of access to science and the private rights of individuals over their scientific creations or ‘inventions’. The tension is reflected in international human rights texts, notably in the fundamental human rights enunciated in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Yet these rights remained largely ignored by international organizations, courts and scholars alike until the adoption of the TRIPS agreement. This book builds on the work of pioneering scholars who have drawn attention to the need for systematic study of the right to access the benefits of science. The aim has been to gain a deeper understanding of the right to access the benefits of science by retracing its genealogy and moral foundations to analyze the implications for current controversies relating to patents in the biological sciences. This chapter draws out the implications of this study for the resolution of the problematic raised by the three landmark case studies set out in Chapter 1 and the broader challenges for the direction of future research in this field.

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