ISHPSSB 2001 || Quinnipiac University, July 18-22, 2001

Regulatory Science I: Intellectual Property

This session will explore policy issues concerning biological research. Examples of such issues are the precautionary principle, bioprospecting and biodiversity resource exploration, macro-agro-ecological zoning and development, and transgenic product regulation. Most themes reveal aspects of risk assessment negotiation, regulation debate, political debate on development, international trade, international relations and globalization issues.

Organized by: Marilia Coutinho & Les Levidow

Jack Wilson, Washington and Lee University
"The Effects of Patents on the Social Structure of Biology"
This paper explores the effect that intellectual property law has had on the normative practices of biologists engaged in basic research. In it I sketch the legal history of treating biological entities as intellectual property and examine what happens to the social structure of biology when a contrary set of rewards in the form of intellectual property rights is grafted onto the pre-existing set of motivating factors. Many accounts of social structure of science stress the importance of fairly sharing credit, data, and resources. Changes in the patent law and even more its judicial interpretation and application by the U.S. Patent Office in the last twenty years have added concerns about intellectual property rights to areas of science, particularly university-based molecular and cell biology that once operated in relative innocence of the patent system. I argue that the current system interferes with the sharing of information and research tools and suggest ways to resolve the problems raised by the challenge to communalism in biology. The surprising conclusion seems to be that communalism is unnecessary for successful biology.

Marilia Coutinho, R.L.M. Silva and M.A. Marin, Universidad Sao Paulo
"Biodiversity and Public Policy Issues in Development Brazil as a Case Study"
In Brazil, biotechnology is important in agriculture, in health and in the protection of natural resources. It involves research that responds to public policy issues in development and environmental conservation. Being one of the new generic technologies at the base of present world industrial growth, biotechnology development greatly increases the emphasis in Intellectual Property Protection (IPP). Brazil has an immature industrial innovation system and traditionally neglects IPP regulation. Such condition aggravates old problems and brings forth new ones. Among the old ones are the low level of innovation and the disjoining of research and the productive sector. Among the new ones are the economic losses with bio-piracy and the challenges of opening biodiversity resource exploration to foreign initiatives. Analysis of data from the USPTO, show that the number of registered biological patents by Brazilian residents have significantly increased since 1990 and the country has launched large scale biotechnology R&D initiatives since 1996. At the same time, there is great controversy around bio-prospecting agreements with multi-national corporations, legal issues involving monopoly of natural resource exploration and interpretations of macro-agro-ecological zoning results. These and other facts suggest a new relationship between biological research and innovation in Brazil. It also exposes conflicts of interests that characterize the challenges of development and of participating in a globalized economy.

Warren Neill, University of New Brunswick
"Terminator Technology"
"Terminator technology" is used to genetically modify crop seeds so that the next generation of seeds from the mature plants will effectively self-destruct. This technology raises a number of ethical concerns. One worry is that an injustice is being done to farmers who, as a result of this technology, may have little choice but to continually buy seeds that in many cases incorporate genetic information from strains of crops developed through their own breeding programs. Another concern is that by eliminating seed trading and breeding programs among farmers, this technology will greatly reduce the future biodiversity of crops. There are also environmental concerns focused around the possibility of the "terminator gene" spreading to other crops and plants. On the other side of the issue, those who develop useful and unique innovations in crops via biotechnology can plausibly claim that they have a right to protect their intellectual property by using this technology. In my view, most criticisms of the terminator technology fail to take this sort of intellectual property rights argument seriously enough. At the same time, however, there are important questions to answer about the philosophical basis for this alleged property right.

Part II: GMOs, Uncertainty & Law


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