Research reveals biotech patent system breakdown

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Washington, Sept 10 : After conducting case studies in India, Brazil, Canada, Kenya the United States, the European Union, Japan and Australia, experts have said that the world's biotechnology patent system is broken.

The study by an international coalition of experts has claimed that the crisis in biotechnology has led not only to economic problems but to endemic mistrust among its various actors that is stopping lifesaving technologies from reaching the people who need them most in developed and developing countries.

"We found the same stumbling blocks in the traditional communities of Brazil as we did in the boardroom of a corporation that holds the patent to a gene that can determine the chance a woman will develop breast cancer. Most striking is that no matter where we looked, the lack of trust played a vital role in blocking negotiations that could have benefited both sides, as well as the larger public," said Richard Gold, professor of intellectual property at McGill University and chair of the International Expert Group that produced the report.

In the report, namely 'Toward a New Era of Intellectual Property: From Confrontation to Negotiation', the authors have made a number of concrete recommendations pointing to governments, the private sector and universities as crucial players.

They have called for better management of scientific knowledge and new ways to measure whether technology transfers are working.

The seven years study, according to Gold is based on revelations that came out of discussions with policy-makers, industry representatives, scientists and academics from around the world, as well as the outcomes of a series of case studies involving many developed and developing countries like India.

The researchers have highlighted an increasingly dysfunctional industry that relies on a business model based on outdated conceptions of IP.

"The old IP approach of the biotechnology community has failed to deliver on its potential to address disease and hunger in both developing and industrialised nations. We need to do better, and the IT world has shown us part of the solution. Look at the way that change has swept through the IT world and brought benefits to millions," said Gold.

They said that apart from various innovations, biotechnology brings with it a host of problems. The report finds that a fixation on patents and privately-controlled research has frequently given rise to controversy and roadblocks to innovation.

Based on a study of measures of success, stem cell researchers have suggested that those who patent the most, collaborate the least,.

The Expert Group has said that the best innovative activity occurs when everyone - researchers, companies, government and NGOs - works together to ensure that new ideas reach the public, but are appropriately regulated and efficiently delivered to those who need them.

Pointing to governments, the private sector and universities as crucial players, the authors call for better management of scientific knowledge and new ways to measure whether technology transfers are working.

Recently for UNITAID, an international governmental group, Gold and his colleagues have created the design for a patent pool to unblock patents so that needed fixed dose combination and paediatric antiretroviral medicines reach those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

"The end of our old way of doing business does not mean we don't need a system for protecting intellectual knowledge," said Gold.

He added: "We need an IP system that will support collaborations among researchers and partners in industry and academia worldwide so that knowledge gets to those who need it most. This means the laws may have to be changed, but more importantly, it means that we have a lot of work to do to change behaviours and build trust among all the players.

"How people behave - in other words, their practices - and the effect of practices on innovation is critical. Public and private institutions - patent offices, courts, universities, governments, corporations and industry groups - that manage, award, review and hold intellectual property also play an essential role in shaping the IP system."

ANI

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