RS set to probe genetic patents

August 30, 2002

Gene patenting and academic intellectual property rights will be probed by a group of senior scientists and patent experts in a Royal Society investigation, writes Steve Farrar.

The working group has been set up to investigate how intellectual property rights are impacting on scientific research following concerns about the legal framework that seeks to protect the ownership of inventions while encouraging the free exchange of ideas and knowledge.

A key issue to be tackled is the question of genetic sequences.

Roger Needham, managing director of Microsoft Research and chairman of the group, said there was widespread public concern that the patenting of genes could lead to undeserving enterprises - that merely discover genetic information rather than producing a cure - gaining a monopoly over health treatments.

"We need laws that encourage investment in the science, but which allow as many people as possible to share the benefits," he said. The group will also look at the exploitation of research within academe.

Professor Needham said: "There is some controversy, particularly within higher education, about how best to manage the opportunities to exploit research, as recent events at the University of Cambridge have demonstrated."

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