No conflict between scientific research and commercialisation

In Insights, Uncategorized

7 January, 2009

It’s a widely held myth in the world of medical research that patent is a dirty word, merely a way of making money out of your research. In actual fact, applying for a patent has much in common with publishing a paper in a scientific journal. The difference is in the purpose of the exercise.

Academic researchers regularly suggest that it is unethical to protect their innovations with patents. They are disdainful of the kind of commercial research undertaken by the pharmaceutical companies. All they want to do is to be able to publish their findings in scientific journals. They say they want to share the results of their research freely and, as almost all research today builds on earlier discoveries by other scientists, they want to contribute to the advance of science in a spirit of altruism.

Patents, however, do not restrict a researcher’s opportunities to share information. On the contrary! Once a researcher has applied for a patent, he or she can publish their research results the very same day. The patent application itself is also published and here the innovation must be described in such detail that it is possible to reproduce it. There’s nothing hush-hush about that! In fact, lack of reproducibility is one reason to reject a patent application, or even to invalidate a patent after it has been granted.

Nor can you overlook the obvious. Given the sky-high cost of developing today’s pharmaceuticals, many would never have seen the light of day if it hadn’t been possible to protect them with patents. What a disaster that would be! Pure research without a commercial incentive is indispensable if we are to understand how the world works. But there is no reason to condemn the work of developing patented drugs simply because these same drugs may one day make a profit for the companies that developed them. After all, advances in science depend both on “free” research and on patented innovations.

Inga Lill Andersson, European Patent Attorney

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