The report (THES, February 21) on the misleading and erroneous views attributed to Jacqueline McGlade and her colleagues on the draft European Union directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions has generated further confusion. The view that the "EU is trying to enslave nature" is incorrect and appears to be based on a misunderstanding of established patent legislation.
The draft directive seeks to harmonise across Europe that which is already patent practice. It does not envisage patent rights in biotechnology being any broader than in any other field, or broader than exist at present. Inventions would still need to be new, non-obvious and have industrial application.
For Professor McGlade and her colleagues to believe, as has been quoted, that "you can take sperm and eggs out of the body and patent them" one can only assume that they have been grossly misinformed. The directive does not represent a threat to academic research. Without an effective and harmonised patent system, it is likely that secrecy in biotechnology research would increase.
The research-based pharmaceutical industry and many in academia welcome the initiative being taken by the European Commission and the European Parliament. A strong intellectual property base in biotechnology will encourage innovation, promote the sharing of knowledge and will stimulate further research, both in academia and industry.
Jeff Kipling, Director of science and technology, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry