Researchers, patenting and commercialisation

14.4 It is Australian Government policy to promote the commercial exploitation of innovative research.[1] As discussed in Chapter 11, the responsibility to obtain intellectual property protection and pursue commercialisation of research lies with the institution where the research is conducted. Within institutions, it is researchers who are usually best placed to initially identify research with commercial potential.

14.5 The emphasis on commercialisation is a relatively new development in the culture of research. As John O’Connor has suggested:

Before the advent of the commercial potential of biotechnology, researchers were not motivated to seek patent protection. This is because it was regarded as being against scientific norms to claim exclusive rights in research discoveries. Consequently, commercial potential of recent advances in biotechnology has created a conflict between traditional policies of patent law and scientific research.[2]

14.6 Dr Dianne Nicol and Jane Nielsen have also observed that academics involved in upstream research must now respond to commercial considerations, noting:

Many of the scientists who are involved in upstream research and for whom academic kudos has in the past been sufficient reward are now required to consider the best ways to protect their intellectual property rights and transfer their technology to industry. This introduces sharper focus on commercial considerations in the research environment.[3]

14.7 The skills, experience and attitudes of academic researchers may affect the capture and exploitation of intellectual property in genetic research. This is particularly so in relation to genetic research. More than 50% of Australian organisations filing applications locally for patents over human DNA sequences are universities and not for profit organisations.[4]

[1] See Ch 17.

[2] J O’Connor, ‘The Commercialisation of Human Tissue: The Source of Legal, Ethical and Social Problems: An Area Better Suited to Legislative Resolution’ (1990) 24 Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 115, 137.

[3] D Nicol and J Nielsen, Patents and Medical Biotechnology: An Empirical Analysis of Issues Facing the Australian Industry (2003) Centre for Law and Genetics Occasional Paper No 6, 35.

[4] See Ch 16, figure 16–2.