Intellectual property rights and living organisms

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One of the most contentious issues accompanying new developments in bioscience, biomedicine and biotechnology has been the debate surrounding the patenting of living things. The debate touches on many of the legal, ethical and social concerns that come bundled with advances in science and technology, and with how these advances are understood, governed and capitalised upon. Indeed, the intellectual property rights (IPR) system has been positioned at the heart of several historical and contemporary controversies to do with how we respond to new developments in science and technology and how we negotiate new ethical, legal, social and/or other boundaries as a result. What follows will be an attempt to very briefly sketch out some of the principal lines of contention that have characterised the debates around the patenting of life forms. I will look initially at the history of the notion of patentability for living things, then at some of the specific ramifications of the ever-evolving scope and scale of patents on living things focusing on concepts such as the 'patent thicket' and 'patent creep'. Finally, I will look in slightly more detail at a specific controversy in the field, namely that of 'biopiracy'. © 2006 Surgical Associates Ltd.




Hamilton, C. (2006). Intellectual property rights and living organisms. International Journal of Surgery.

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