The moral tollbooth: a method that makes use of the patent system to address ethical concerns in biotechnology
Gold, E. Richard
Caulfield, Timothy A.
Lancet 2002 June 29; 359(9325): 2268-2270
Patents granted for biotechnological innovations continue to cause social and ethical dilemmas. For example, much controversy surrounds the patenting of genes that predispose to breast-cancer, and in the USA the debate continues about whether or not stem-cell technology should be accessible to all. In this report, we argue that some of these concerns can be addressed within national patent systems. In particular, we examine the "order public or morality" clause that exists in most national patent procedures. Furthermore, we propose that patents for inventions that present social and ethical questions should be subject to suspension by an independent, transparent, and responsible tribunal made up of specialists in ethics, research, and economics. This suspension should be reversible so that, when the social or ethical concerns have been addressed in an appropriate manner, the suspension can be lifted. Although controversial, such a flexible mechanism would assist governments and industry in enhancing public support for patents in the biotechnology area.
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