Social and ethical considerations

2.30 The patent system also has social and ethical dimensions, which differ according to the type of invention. In considering reform of the patent system as it applies to genetic materials and technologies, the economic dimensions of the patent system cannot be divorced from their social or ethical impact. Rather, the economic, social and ethical dimensions of gene patenting must be taken into account in developing reforms that will serve the public interest.

2.31 There are differing views on the extent to which patent law itself should recognise social and ethical considerations, for example, through new criteria for patentability. One view is that social and ethical considerations are better addressed through direct regulation of the use or exploitation of patented inventions, rather than through the patent system directly. In contrast, it has been suggested that we should change the way we think of the patent system, so that patent law is seen ‘as a regulatory mechanism for a number of economic and social ends—including investment in innovation, access to medicine, protection of the environment, and the acknowledgment of indigenous knowledge’.[29]

2.32 Aspects of how the patent system should deal with the social and ethical dimensions of gene patents are discussed in Chapters 3 and 7. However, as explained in Chapter 1, it is beyond the scope of the Terms of Reference to attempt any fundamental ‘re-invention’ of the patent system.

[29] Australian Centre for Intellectual Property in Agriculture, Submission P81, 16 April 2004. See also B Sherman, ‘Regulating Access and Use of Genetic Resources: Intellectual Property Law and Biodiscovery’ (2003) 25 European Intellectual Property Review 301.