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Proprietary rights to the products of biomedical research have repeatedly been a source of controversy for over twenty years. Patents on biomedical innovations have allowed scientists, academics, and research institutions to raise research funds and have contributed to the growth of the biotechnology industry. But “one firm’s research tool may be another firm’s end product.” Patents have been a source of great concern for academic and basic researchers, who fear that proprietary rights to basic research results will hamper the progress of science, stifle the free flow of new knowledge and the dissemination of research results, and chill the research efforts of scientists who fear infringement liability. The tension between a patentholder’s interest of maximizing the revenue stream from a patented invention and the public and private interests of allowing downstream research to be conducted on the patented product is particularly acute when the invention has both basic and applied uses.

I suggest that the patent system should seek to balance incentives at all stages of the research process. Discussion of the proper role of proprietary rights in general, and patents in particular, has long been dominated by models that apply a linear approach to the process of scientific discovery and innovation. Such models implicitly assume that a patented product is the final consumer end product. In fact, scientific research is not linear; reality is much more complicated. Today biomedical research proceeds not by placing one brick upon the other within a single discipline, but by solving complex multidisciplinary problems. This process is leading to new models of innovation and research, which in turn influence how researchers, whether in the public or private sector, use patent rights.


Biotechnology | Intellectual Property Law | Law


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