Can the Right to Science Reduce the Tensions Between Intellectual Property and Human Rights?
A HUMAN-CENTERED APPROACH TO HEALTH INNOVATIONS: RECONCILING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY WITH HUMAN RIGHTS, Lisa Biersay, Thomas Pogge and Peter K. Yu, eds., 2023, Forthcoming
13 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2022
Date Written: November 10, 2022
The right to science—or, more formally, the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications—is one of the most underexplored rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Referred to as being "[t]ucked away at the tail end" of the UDHR and the "most obscure of all the international human rights treaty provisions," this right did not become the subject of an authoritative interpretation by the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) until April 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taking note of the release of General Comment No. 25 and the considerable frustrations over the tensions and conflicts between intellectual property and human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic, this chapter closely examines the right to science as incorporated in Article 27(1) of the UDHR and Article 15(1)(b) of the ICESCR. The new interpretive comment is of notable importance because it "open[s] … a door to a more complex, nuanced debate and, perhaps, a renewed importance for the right to science, and an evolving role in the protection of other human rights." This chapter further explores whether, and how, the right to science can help reduce the tensions and conflicts between intellectual property and human rights.
This chapter begins by briefly recounting the drafting history of both Article 27(1) of the UDHR and Article 15(1)(b) of the ICESCR. The chapter then discusses three major problems brought about by strong protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, as identified by the CESCR. It further outlines ten different areas in which the textual language in General Comment No. 25 can provide a much-needed boost to promote a human-centered approach to health innovations. The chapter concludes by cautioning that some of this language could nonetheless be used to reinforce the tensions and conflicts between intellectual property and human rights, or even support proposals for strengthening intellectual property protection.
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