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Gene Cartels

Biotech Patents in the Age of Free Trade

Luigi Palombi

Starting with the 13th century, this book explores how patents have been used as an economic protectionist tool, developing and evolving to the point where thousands of patents have been ultimately granted not over inventions, but over isolated or purified biological materials. DNA, invented by no man and once thought to be ‘free to all men and reserved exclusively to none’, has become cartelised in the hands of multinational corporations. The author questions whether the continuing grant of patents can be justified when they are now used to suppress, rather than promote, research and development in the life sciences.
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Chapter 5: The Internationalization and Harmonization of the Patent Systems

Luigi Palombi


[S]ix billion people, most of whom are poor and battling a crippling disease burden with little or no help from their governments . . . with the amendment in the Indian Patent Act (in effect from January 1, 2005) in compliance with WTO patent laws and TRIPs . . . will no longer be able to [access] cheap generic copies of patented medicines. Dr Yusuf K Hamied, Chairman, Cipla Limited, India, 2005 Despite the Industrial Revolution and the technological innovations which it inspired; the public display of inventions in grand international industry fairs held throughout Europe during the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s; the significant reduction in the cost of patenting inventions in the US and the UK; and the growing economic and political power of corporations in both the US and Europe, by 1873 the patent systems in Europe and the UK were in danger. While the British Empire, then the world’s military and economic superpower, had not yet done away with its patent system, by this time enough questions had been raised about the role of the patent system that free traders were close to getting their way. It was the same in Europe, and it would have taken only a British decision, following the Dutch example in 1869, for a domino effect to have been triggered. In 1873 patents were not considered to be the harbingers of technological innovation that they are today. Rather they were understood to be a policy tool which sought to protect the domestic economy by...

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