Biotechnology needs 21st century patent system: Expert

Mar 17, 2008

Biotechnology discoveries – like the method for creating synthetic life forms – are at risk of being unduly hindered or taken hostage by private corporations unless patent systems are brought into the 21st century, an expert from The Australian National University argues.

Dr Matthew Rimmer from the ANU College of Law takes a broad look at the current state of international regulation around intellectual property rights and biological inventions in his new book – and the prognosis is far from healthy.

“Most patent systems around the world were developed during the industrial revolution, which means they’re ill equipped to deal with more complex range of inventions arising out of life sciences – things like man-made micro-organisms, GM plants, the human genome and stem cells,” Dr Rimmer says.

Dr Rimmer says that patent systems provide protections around inventions provided they satisfy criteria to do with novelty, an inventive step and utility. But he argues that such legal tools are not nuanced enough for biotechnical innovation, where inventions can be at once more intellectually subtle and morally ambiguous.

“When it comes to biotechnology, our antiquated patent systems can have detrimental consequences – either hampering the freedom of researchers to take full advantage of experimental use and the possibilities for innovation, or giving a lot of control over living things to a very small group of people.”

Dr Rimmer laments the rise of ‘patent trolls’ – companies that take out patents on very slight biotechnical innovations, and then hold other researchers to ransom if they attempt to make any progress in that particular area.

On the other hand, he acknowledges the legal and ethical complexities surrounding the actions of scientists like those at the J. Craig Venter Institute in the US, who are trying to patent the method for creating a synthetic life-form. While the organism involved is incredibly simple, Dr Rimmer says such moves could lead to patents being taken out on much more complex living things.

Dr Rimmer argues that in order to provide more incentives and protections for scientific innovation, there needs to be greater scope in Australia and elsewhere for challenges to patent applications. He also says there is a need for a broader legal defence of experimentation. Finally, Dr Rimmer argues that thresholds need to be raised to make it harder to get a patent, which would be a blow to ‘patent trolls’.

Source: Research Australia

Explore further: Researchers discover new mechanism of DNA repair

Related Stories

Study on pesticides in lab rat feed causes a stir

30 minutes ago

French scientists published evidence Thursday of pesticide contamination of lab rat feed which they said discredited historic toxicity studies, though commentators questioned the analysis.

Experiments open window on landscape formation

38 minutes ago

University of Oregon geologists have seen ridges and valleys form in real time and—even though the work was a fast-forwarded operation done in a laboratory setting—they now have an idea of how climate ...

To conduct, or to insulate? That is the question

38 minutes ago

A new study has discovered mysterious behaviour of a material that acts like an insulator in certain measurements, but simultaneously acts like a conductor in others. In an insulator, electrons are largely stuck in one place, ...

Why the seahorse's tail is square

38 minutes ago

Why is the seahorse's tail square? An international team of researchers has found the answer and it could lead to building better robots and medical devices. In a nutshell, a tail made of square, overlapping ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover new mechanism of DNA repair

23 hours ago

The DNA molecule is chemically unstable giving rise to DNA lesions of different nature. That is why DNA damage detection, signaling and repair, collectively known as the DNA damage response, are needed.

The math of shark skin

Jul 03, 2015

"Sharks are almost perfectly evolved animals. We can learn a lot from studying them," says Emory mathematician Alessandro Veneziani.

Cuban, US scientists bond over big sharks

Jul 03, 2015

Somewhere in the North Atlantic right now, a longfin mako shark—a cousin of the storied great white—is cruising around, oblivious to the yellow satellite tag on its dorsal fin.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.