Research: Commission publishes study on potential conflict between patenting and publishing of scientific results

March 1, 2002

Brussels, 28 February 2002

The European Commission has published a survey on the effects of the dilemma that scientists said they faced when faced by scientists when they want to publish their results as quickly as possible but at the same time need immediate protection of these results whilst an application for a patent is made.

The survey revealed that this so-called grace period is favoured by academia whilst industry is against it, while SMEs are divided on the issue.

The main finding of this survey is that public research organisations can handle patent applications almost as professionally as industrial organisations and without significantly delaying the scientific publication of results.

In contrast, scientists who have not used the patent system believe that patenting would considerably delay publication of their findings. The survey also points towards the needs of academics and SMEs for an effective and affordable Community Patent system, as proposed by the Commission (see IP/00/714 and MEMO/00/41 ). A strategy for the biotechnology sector is high on the agenda of the March 2002 Barcelona European Council.

Commenting on these findings Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: "It is quite clear that small and innovative companies as well as young researchers need European patent protection. This is particularly true for fast moving sectors such as biotechnology, where Europe has a real chance to become a world player and to create employment. The Commission has stated clearly in its strategic plan for life sciences(1) that a level playing field is needed in patent protection in industrialised countries."

Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein added "This survey once again underlines the demand for cheap and easily accessible patent protection valid throughout the EU. It is therefore vital that our proposal for a Community Patent is adopted urgently".

The survey on the patenting and publication behaviour of EU scientists and organisations from industry and academia involved in biotechnology and genetic engineering research is part of the reporting requirements of the Directive on the protection of biotechnology inventions ( 98/44/EC ).

It probed whether delays can be observed in scientific publication on patentable subjects in genetic engineering research and, if so, what policy measures could be taken to remedy negative implications. Research institutes, universities and small biotech companies that are major contributors to innovation in the life sciences, frequently face a conflict between the urge to quickly disclose research results to the scientific community and/or investors and at the same time the need to file for patent applications.

These conflicting priorities can delay the publication of scientific results and hinder the rapid dissemination of scientific knowledge, thereby slowing scientific progress. Yet, the patent system ensures the publication of results that might otherwise be kept secret, especially for inventions made in industry.

The survey highlights the need for support to and training of academics in the proper use of the patent system. The report concludes that "efforts to define and harmonise the concept of the grace period should be considered". In view of the strong increase in international research collaboration and technology transfer, international harmonisation of the grace period is a major issue for science and technology policy.


In the past decade, the number of publications in the biotechnology sector in the OECD countries has more than doubled. In the same period, the number of patents filed in the biotechnology sector at the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the European Patent Office on average increased by 13-15% p.a., compared to overall annual growth rates of only 5%.

The report is available at: et/en/indprop/

(1) Biotechnology and Life Sciences - a strategy for Europe. /pdf/policypaper_en.pdf

DN: IP/02/342 Date: 28/02/2002

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