Patent profession welcomes Manchester Manifesto on science but slams ‘misleading’ comments on IP

Published: 27 November 2009
By: Peter Prowse

The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) has welcomed ‘Who owns science?’, the Manifesto published by the University of Manchester on Thursday 26 November, but has criticised the authors’ views on patents as ‘ill-informed and misleading’.

CIPA’s vice-president Alasdair Poore praised the University of Manchester for its attempt to stimulate debate about how science is used for the benefit of humanity. “John Sulston and Joseph Stiglitz who respectively chair the university’s Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation and the Brooks World Poverty Institute, are to be congratulated for producing such a wide-ranging and thought-provoking report,” he said. “Nobody would challenge their laudable aim of making a difference in the real world as to how science is used, and hence to build a better future for Humanity’. However, some of the authors’ comments on intellectual property ownership – patents in particular – are ill-informed and misleading.

“Contrary to what is stated in the report,” he continued, “IP rights do not ‘have the tendency to stifle access to knowledge and the free exchange of ideas that is essential to science’. Publication and knowledge-sharing is at the heart of the IP system. Not only is there a vast amount of scientific and technical information available from patent databases around the world, but the majority of it is not available from any other source.”

The Manchester report criticises the patent system on a number of counts, all of which CIPA repudiates:

  • Patents can't be used to prevent a product coming onto the market - if demand for a product is not met on ‘reasonable terms’ then, subject to certain safeguards, anyone can apply to the IPO for a compulsory licence under the patent. The competition authorities can also take action if patents are abused.
  • Patents do not prevent universities from carrying out research - acts done for ‘experimental purposes’ don't infringe.
  • Patents enable research bodies like the University of Manchester to earn a fair return from technical applications of their work, so that money can be ploughed back into further research. Manchester has its own technical transfer office which depends on patents for its success.
  • The alternative to patenting university research is that big business would get a free ride - they could use the work of universities to make profits for themselves.
  • Publication of patent applications is automatic. The applicant has no choice in the matter if he wants to get a patent. Claims that the IP system inhibits knowledge-sharing are just wrong.

CIPA also accuses one of the report’s signatories, Joseph Stiglitz, of continuing to mislead the public in his claims that human genes and other life forms can be patented. “Back in 2006,” says Alasdair Poore, “CIPA wrote a letter to the New Scientist, correcting Stiglitz’s claims that plants or foodstuffs, such as turmeric and Basmati rice, were being patented. This new report is making similarly misleading claims about human genes, stating ‘some 20 per cent of individual human genes have been patented already or have been filed for patenting.’ That is not true. We said it in 2006 and it’s still true in 2009: no patent system in the world allows that. Patents are granted only to inventions that are not previously known: no innovation, no patent.”

According to CIPA, the Manchester Manifesto also repeats misleading views about access to pharmaceuticals in the developing world, alleging that the global intellectual property regime denies poor people access to drugs. “Without an effective patent system, who would have made the necessary investment to discover and manufacture those drugs?” asks Alasdair Poore. “It’s politics and economics that block access to drugs for the world’s poor, not the IP system.”

For more information please contact:

Peter Prowse 
Tel:  01372 271234  Mob: 07973 213039

Alasdair Poore
Tel:  01223 364422 Mob: 07788 977007

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