OECD Conference Considers Evidence that Patents Hinder Research, IP Watch Reports (link)

May 19, 2006

Madrid, 18 May 2006

During the first half of a two-day of an intellectual property conference, studies presented on whether patenting affects access for researchers concluded that although there is an access problem, it may not be a major problem for academic researchers. But the discussion showed that conference participants differ on the problem, as well as on solutions.

The 18-19 May conference is being held by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Spanish National Research Council, and the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office, with the support of the European Patent Office.

Dominique Guellec of the Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry at the OECD (who recently joined from the European Patent Office) told Intellectual Property Watch that the OECD has had a mandate to look into this issue since January 2004, and that although it has held two previous major conferences on intellectual property, this is the first looking specifically at access to research. He said that the press as well as research publications have been highlighting this issue recently.

Guellec said one of the aims of the conference is to establish evidence that patents hinder access. "Certain people complain but there is not enough evidence to establish the case," he said, although he acknowledged that there are cases.

John Barton, a law professor at Stanford Law School (US), said in his keynote speech that problems arise with certain patents such as some related to breast cancer research involving genes (called BRCA) which are patented by Myriad. The patenting of this can stop others from using not only certain gene sequences but also other research results that could be used for further research, he said. Patents may have an "unintended scope," he said. "We are not currently at the correct balance." He said that the access problem is more serious for industry than academia.

He said the goal should be to prevent the initial inventor from having control of subsequent invention.

John Walsh, associate professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in an interview that it was his understanding that the OECD wanted to hear evidence and opinion to evaluate whether patents have adverse effects on biomedical research, and is treating it as an open question.

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