Reconciling Patent Policies with the University Mission

Ethical Perspectives - Journal of the European Ethics Network, Vol. 13, 2006

17 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2006 Last revised: 25 May 2014

See all articles by Geertrui Van Overwalle

Geertrui Van Overwalle

KU Leuven - Centre for IT & IP Law (CiTiP)

Date Written: December 1, 2010


Universities are regarded as key institutions in the knowledge economy. Traditionally, the concept of scientific progress has been linked with an ideal of free and open dissemination of scientific information. At present, however, there is a growing strain to cash in the commercial potential created by academic research, and to regard academic knowledge as targets for opportunities for creating income. The major question is how to reconcile the traditional academic mission of knowledge production and science sharing with the current trend towards knowledge protection and appropriation through patenting.

In balancing the sharing and shielding of knowledge, two major sets of measures should be contemplated. A first set of measures aims at safeguarding individual and collective research from the harm patents might have on research practice and scientific conduct, and at cautiously watching potential conflicts of interest. The appointment of an ombudsperson for science, a mandatory system of whistle blowing, a code of conduct and a set of conflict-of-interest guidelines are explored as helpful instruments in this regard. A second set of tools aims at designing institutional strategies to balance the ethos of sharing and profit maximalisation through patents. Public patents, open access patents and two-tiered patent license strategies are examined in order to find a new balance in the growing conflict between private and public knowledge with which contemporary universities are faced.

Keywords: University, Patents, Ombudsperson for science, Whistle blowing, Code of conduct, Open access, Public patents, Two-tiered patents, Humanitarian use license

JEL Classification: O34, K11, K19, I18, I28, I39, Q18

Suggested Citation

Van Overwalle, Geertrui, Reconciling Patent Policies with the University Mission (December 1, 2010). Ethical Perspectives - Journal of the European Ethics Network, Vol. 13, 2006, Available at SSRN:

Geertrui Van Overwalle (Contact Author)

KU Leuven - Centre for IT & IP Law (CiTiP) ( email )

Sint-Michielsstraat 6 box 3443
Leuven, 3000


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