Life Patents, Religion, and Justice: A Summary of Themes
From PATENTS ON LIFE: RELIGIOUS, MORAL, AND SOCIAL JUSTICE ASPECTS OF BIOTECHNOLOGY AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY (Thomas C. Berg, Roman Cholij, and Simon Ravenscroft eds., Cambridge University Press, 2019, Forthcoming)
16 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2019
Date Written: October 16, 2019
The chapter-authors in the Patents on Life book bring religious and other moral perspectives to bear on the legal, policy, social, and ethical questions raised by patents on life, i.e., patents relating to genetic material or biological processes concerning humans, other animals, or plants. This closing chapter summarizes the collection's themes.
Although a large literature of religious bioethics exists, relatively little of it deals with the role of patents in biotechnology. That is so even though patents in the life and medical sciences have recently caused heated moral and political debates. For example, do pharmaceutical patents encourage lifesaving medicines and technologies, or do they render them unaffordable, in developing nations or for the poor elsewhere? Do global corporations commit "biopiracy” when they draw on traditional knowledge or genetic resources to obtain their own patents?
This book gathers religious, secular moral, legal, and sociopolitical perspectives in one place. It aims to be a resource so lawyers, policy activists, and policymakers in patent debates might better understand what religious perspectives have to offer, and so religious thinkers and leaders might better understand biotech patents and thus have more to offer. The chapters include Christian, Jewish, and Muslim perspectives on bioethics and law - and both American and European perspectives on the limits of patentable material. The chapters explore various considerations: the importance of patents to innovation, the limitations on patenting of naturally occurring products and processes, the potential limits on patents stemming from distributive concerns, and the place of patents in international trade and development debates.
Three themes, summarized here, emerge from the balance of the chapters. First, patents on life call for evaluation under criteria of morality and social justice. Second, religious thought can contribute to (without dominating) such evaluations. Finally, however, for religious thought to contribute effectively, it must be more informed and sophisticated than it has been, about both patent law and biotechnology. The chapters aim to provide such knowledge.
Keywords: gene patents, life patents, biotechnology, morality and patents, product of nature, natural phenomena, Myriad, European patents, biological drugs, biopiracy, traditional knowledge/genetic resources, GM crops, patents and development, religious ethics, Catholic social thought, Jewish law, Islamic law
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation