Research Handbook on Human Rights and Intellectual Property
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Research Handbook on Human Rights and Intellectual Property

  • Research Handbooks in Intellectual Property series

Edited by Christophe Geiger

Research Handbook on Human Rights and Intellectual Property is a comprehensive reference work on the intersection of human rights and intellectual property law. Resulting from a field-specific expertise of over 40 scholars and professionals of world renown, the book explores the practical and doctrinal implications of human rights on intellectual property law and jurisprudence. In particular, the chapters scrutinize issues related to interactions among and between norms of different legal families, the role of human rights in development of the balanced intellectual property legal framework, standing case-law of national and regional courts and intellectual property offices reconciling overlapping rights and obligations, and identify the practical significance of different human rights for the exercise of intellectual property rights.
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Chapter 25: Human dignity and patents

Aurora Plomer


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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