HSV Submissions – September 2008

What Should Be Patentable?

Submitted 2 September 2008 to the Advisory Council on Intellectual Property, Australia

The Australian Government’s Advisory Council on Intellectual Property called for submissions on what matters should be patentable. HSV quoted extensively from scientific publications in support of our views, making the following main points:

  1. Humanists believe that ethical aspects should determine exclusions from the patenting of intellectual properties.
  2. We observe with regret that the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission on this subject in April 2004 have not been implemented. Presently, 20 per cent of human genes are patented intellectual property. They are neither invented nor a product of innovation, being essentially discoveries of existing entities of nature and, consequently, should not qualify for patenting.
  3. The present arrangements leave us too often at the mercy of monopolies. They make life-saving drugs and genetic tests more expensive and inhibit biometric research.
  4. The present patenting criteria need to be urgently revised. Inventors of new techniques should be rewarded adequately without obtaining ownership and monopoly over items such as genes.
  5. Humanists believe that any science directed towards the improvement of public or human well-being should be funded by governments.
  6. We strongly support Richard Jefferson, Head of the Centre for Application of Molecular Biology, in his call for “open-access genetics” to free the tools of modern genetics and biology from the “shackles of excessive patenting”. His team makes methods of biological research available for all to use, which is particularly valuable for developing countries.
  7. We find it very regrettable that our obligations under AUSFTA (our free trade agreement with the USA) compromise Australia’s stated aims to benefit society as a whole in matters of patentable material.
  8. We strongly believe that any ethical aspects of limiting patentable material should be determined, case by case, by courts of law, free from the pressures of political or other interests. At present, article 17.9 of AUSFTA precludes the consideration of ethical issues by either the courts, the Parliament or the Patent Office (Q3).
  9. We are hopeful that this review of patentable subject matter will lead to changes in a system, which currently favours commercial interest, to one based on precedence for ethical approaches and human well­being.

Published: Victorian Humanist, October 2008: 4

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