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Patents or Commercialisation Pressure? A (Speculative) Search for the Right Target, Tim Caufield

Patents or Commercialisation Pressure? A (Speculative) Search for the Right Target, Tim Caufield

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Published by Brendan Gogarty

Biomedical researchers are under intense pressure to commercialise their work. And the pressure is growing in strength and coming from new directions. If you are a biomedical researcher operating in today’s research environment, the successful commercialisation of your work is not, as it was once perceived, a fortunate and coincidental by-product of blue-sky science. It is an expectation. In this brief comment I seek to: (1) highlight the degree to which, in Canada, commercialisation pressure has become institutionalised as a formal funding policy; and (2) argue that, given this reality, more attention — and, for that matter, more ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) research resources — should be focused on the complex issues associated with this trend. I suggest that many of the issues so often attributed to patents (eg, data withholding and a breakdown in collaborative relationships) are just as likely the result of commercialisation pressure. In fact, it is commercialisation pressure, as an umbrella phenomenon under which the patenting process sits, that deserves the harshest critique. It is this social phenomenon — not patents, which are merely a legal tool to facilitate commercialisation — that seems the more genuine threat to both scientific inquiry and, in the long term, the public good.

Biomedical researchers are under intense pressure to commercialise their work. And the pressure is growing in strength and coming from new directions. If you are a biomedical researcher operating in today’s research environment, the successful commercialisation of your work is not, as it was once perceived, a fortunate and coincidental by-product of blue-sky science. It is an expectation. In this brief comment I seek to: (1) highlight the degree to which, in Canada, commercialisation pressure has become institutionalised as a formal funding policy; and (2) argue that, given this reality, more attention — and, for that matter, more ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) research resources — should be focused on the complex issues associated with this trend. I suggest that many of the issues so often attributed to patents (eg, data withholding and a breakdown in collaborative relationships) are just as likely the result of commercialisation pressure. In fact, it is commercialisation pressure, as an umbrella phenomenon under which the patenting process sits, that deserves the harshest critique. It is this social phenomenon — not patents, which are merely a legal tool to facilitate commercialisation — that seems the more genuine threat to both scientific inquiry and, in the long term, the public good.

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Categories:Types, Business/Law
Published by: Brendan Gogarty on Feb 07, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/17/2013

 
Title:
PatentsorCommercialisationPressure?A(Speculative)SearchfortheRightTarget
Author:
TimothyCaulfield
EAPDate(approvedforprint):11/12/2012DOI:10.5778/JLIS.2012.22.Caulfield.1
Note to users:
Articles in the ‘Epubs ahead of print’ (EAP) section are peerreviewed accepted articles to be published in this journal. Please be awarethat although EAPs do not have all bibliographic details available yet, theycan be cited using the year of online publication and the Digital ObjectIdentifier (DOI) as follows: Author(s), ‘Article Title’, Journal (Year), DOI, EAP(pg #).The EAP page number will be retained in the bottom margin of the printedversion of this article when it is collated in a print issue. Collated printversions of the article will contain an additional volumetric page number.Both page citations will be relevant, but any EAP reference must continue to be preceded by the letters EAP.ISSN-0729-1485Copyright
©
2012 University of TasmaniaAll rights reserved. Subject to the law of copyright no part of this publicationmay be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise,without the permission of the owner of the copyright. All enquiries seekingpermission to reproduce any part of this publication should be addressed inthe first instance to:The Editor, Journal of Law, Information and Science, Private Bag 89, Hobart,Tasmania 7001, Australia.editor@jlisjournal.org 
http://www.jlisjournal.org/
 
EAP 1
Patents or Commercialisation Pressure?A (Speculative) Search for the Right Target
T
IMOTHY
C
AULFIELD
*
 
1 Introduction
Biomedical researchers are under intense pressure to commercialise theirwork. And the pressure is growing in strength and coming from newdirections. If you are a biomedical researcher operating in today’s researchenvironment, the successful commercialisation of your work is not, as it wasonce perceived, a fortunate and coincidental by-product of blue-sky science. Itis an expectation.In Canada, this reality has recently become part of the national debate on how best to fund and govern research. It has raised questions about whether thistrend is having an adverse impact on the research environment and whetherit has caused the erosion of independent science.
1
It has also stimulated agrowing body of empirical research on its impact.In this brief comment I seek to: (1) highlight the degree to which, in Canada,commercialisation pressure has become institutionalised as a formal fundingpolicy; and (2) argue that, given this reality, more attention — and, for thatmatter, more ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) research resources —should be focused on the complex issues associated with this trend. I suggestthat many of the issues so often attributed to patents (eg, data withholdingand a breakdown in collaborative relationships) are just as likely the result of commercialisation pressure. In fact, it is commercialisation pressure, as anumbrella phenomenon under which the patenting process sits, that deservesthe harshest critique. It is this social phenomenon — not patents, which aremerely a legal tool to facilitate commercialisation — that seems the moregenuine threat to both scientific inquiry and, in the long term, the publicgood.

*
Canada Research Chair and in Health Law and Policy, Professor, Faculty of Lawand School of Public Health, and Research Director, Health Law and Science PolicyGroup, University of Alberta. I would like to thank Lisa Belanger, SarahBurningham, Ubaka Ogbogu and Amy Zarzeczny for the help and comments andthe Stem Cell Network and the CCSC for their funding support. I would also liketo thank Dianne Nicol for the invitation to contribute to this collection. Portions of this article informed a commentary in the magazine
Policy Options
.
1
Anne Silversides, “Merchants of Science: How Commercialization is ChangingScience in Canada” (May 2008)
The Walrus
<http://walrusmagazine.com/articles/2008.05-science-and-commercialization-ann-silversides>; Hannah Hoag, “Canadian Budget Hits Basic Science: InnovationWins over Basic Research and the Environment” (30 March 2012)
Nature
 , doi:10.1038/nature.2012.10366. Hoag writes that Canada’s latest budget “push[es] formore collaboration between basic researchers and industry”.

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