The Many Faces of the Public Domain
Edited by Charlotte Waelde and Hector MacQueen
Chapter 13: Scientific Research Agendas: Controlled and Shaped by the Scope of Patentability
Helen Wallace and Sue Mayer 1 Introduction Recent controversies surrounding intellectual property rights (IPRs) and patenting have included whether discoveries about nature, such as gene sequences, should be patentable; whether innovation is stimulated or stifled by the extension of IPRs; and how benefits should be shared in situations where biological material or knowledge from a particular area underpins the claimed ‘invention’. These debates have focused on how the monopolistic rights granted in ‘patents on life’ restrict scientists’ or patients’ access to new biological discoveries or their applications and whether they disproportionately reward companies which claim patents based on the results of shared scientific discovery or indigenous knowledge. In this chapter, we explore a different and neglected issue which concerns the effects of patenting on the scientific research agenda. We argue that scientific knowledge that can be made the subject of a patent application is being favoured above the acquisition of other knowledge. It is thus not only access to biological discoveries that is controlled and shaped by the patent system, but what constitutes scientific knowledge itself. Because knowledge in the ‘knowledge-based economy’ is defined by what can be patented and marketed, the ‘public domain’ of knowledge about human, animal and plant biology is not just becoming less public; it is also changing shape. We argue that this is having a negative effect on innovation in public health and agricultural systems which may have greater benefits overall for health and food security. This focus on the generation of For a general...
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