Proliferating patent problems with human embryonic stem cell research
Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 2006; 3(1-2): 69-79
The scientific challenges and ethical controversies facing human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research continue to command attention. The issues posed by patenting hESC technologies have, however, largely failed to penetrate the discourse, much less result in political action. This paper examines U.S. and European patent systems, illustrating discrepancies in the patentability of hESC technologies and identifying potential negative consequences associated with efforts to make available hESC research tools for basic research purposes while at same time strengthening the position of certain patent-holders' rights. Differences between the U.S. and the European contexts may in part explain why the course of hESC research in those jurisdictions ultimately diverges. Nevertheless, questions about whether and how patenting, related agreements, and licensing practices progress and shape the field of hESC research in both the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere must no longer be marginalised. These questions are fundamentally important in determining what benefits are likely to result from hESC research. Assuring these benefits is the moral issue with which patent systems are most intrinsically concerned, and that governments must begin to directly address rather than assume or ignore.
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