Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Patenting and the exclusive ownership of ‘intellectual property’ is a thorny issue, and it is not the purpose of this book to resolve it. Yet, because this affects the sharing of knowledge in many ways, both positively and negatively, it may be helpful to advance a few principles:

• The private sector and the market are an efficient way of sharing knowledge, and for extending its benefits to the wider community. This will be recognised by any effective science communication and awareness policy.

• Patenting and IP protection are important ways to ensure a fair return to industry for its investment in the research and development of new knowledge and technologies.

• Patenting and IP protection are vital ways to foster continued national innovation.

• IP protection is an important source of revenue for many research institutions, and a stimulus to further research and innovation and to science/industry partnerships.

However, patenting and IP protection has become an expensive industry in its own right, to the point where protecting a technology may cost more than the technology can return. It diverts efforts that should be put into disseminating new knowledge into, often fruitless, legal entanglements. Patents are frequently taken out when a commercially shrewder course would be to be first to market. IP has also become a tradable good in ways that do not reflect the true value of the knowledge to humanity, but rather its value to financial speculators.

Also patenting and IP protection conflict with the principle of the free and rapid sharing of human knowledge. They exclude large portions of humanity from the benefits of science, retard its delivery or price it beyond their reach, they distort the focus of public good research from what benefits society to what is profitable for a few, and they help undermine community trust in science.

In view of these conflicts and contradictions, it seems sensible to seek a middle ground that aims to maximize the benefits to humanity overall. Some ways to achieve this may include:

• Restricting IP and patents to novel scientific applications, constructs and technologies

• Recognizing all chemical elements, genes and naturally occurring materials as the common heritage of humanity, not as private

• Recognizing ‘primary knowledge’ as discovered by basic research as the common heritage of humanity

• Building obligations to discuss inform and educate the community into the granting of IP rights, making the process more transparent and the consequences of new technologies more subject to public scrutiny

• Encouraging greater communication by patent holders, using effective communication techniques

• Encouraging those who take out patents and protect IP to heed the wishes and needs of society, and to engage in an effective two-way dialogue

• Developing knowledge-sharing partnerships between science, industry and the community

• Creating an international fund to buy out patents, or recompense their owners, in cases where a protected technology is urgently required to save life and deliver large-scale social or environmental benefits in the developing world.

Source of Information : CSIRO-Open Science Sharing Knowledge in the Global Century 2010

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