Exploiting abstract possibilities: A critique of the concept and practice of product patenting [Book Review]

Developments in biotechnology and genomics have moved the issue of patenting scientific and technological inventions toward the center of interest. In particular, the patentability of genes of plants, animals, or humans and of genetically modified (parts of) living organisms has been discussed, and questioned, from various normative perspectives. This paper aims to contribute to this debate. For this purpose, it first explains a number of relevant aspects of the theory and practice of patenting. The focus is on a special and increasingly significant type of patents, namely product patents. The paper provides three general arguments against the concept and practice of product patenting. The first argument briefly considers the claim that patents are legitimate because they promote socially useful innovation. Against this claim, it is argued that product patents may hamper rather than promote such innovation. The second and main argument concludes that product patents are not adequately based on actual technological inventions, as they should be according to the usual criteria of patentability. The principal moral issue is that product patents tend to reward patentees for inventions they have not really made available. The final argument proposes a method for patenting the heat of the sun. Assuming that granting this patent will be generally considered absurd, the argument exposes a further, fundamental problem of the concept and practice of product patenting.
Keywords (product) patents  biotechnology and genomics  experimental science and technology  reproducibility of inventions
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DOI 10.1023/B:JAGE.0000033080.99746.da
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