Patents, Paradigm Shifts, and Progress in Biomedical Science

37 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2006

See all articles by Peter Lee

Peter Lee

University of California, Davis - School of Law


This Note applies the concept of "paradigm shifts" from the history and philosophy of science to describe how patents on biomedical research tools - inputs to basic research - can create conditions conducive to fundamental advances in scientific theory. Patents on research tools can prevent widespread access to these technologies and thus inhibit downstream experimentation. The decreased availability of patented research tools provides an added incentive for scientists to fundamentally reconceptualize natural phenomena in ways that do not depend on patented inputs for their exploration. This encourages scientists to "theorize around" dominant paradigms, thereby engaging in the alternative theory generation that drives profound scientific progress. Drawing on these observations, this Note argues for a time-limited experimental use exception at the beginning of the patent term in order to best balance the normal scientific processes and alternate hypothesis generation that jointly enable paradigm shifts.

Keywords: patents, paradigm shifts, science, biomedical science, Kuhn, stem cells

JEL Classification: K00, L43, O30, O31, O32, O33, O34, O38

Suggested Citation

Lee, Peter, Patents, Paradigm Shifts, and Progress in Biomedical Science. Yale Law Journal, Vol. 114, pp. 659-695, 2004, Available at SSRN:

Peter Lee (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States

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