Patents or Commercialisation Pressure?A (Speculative) Search for the Right Target
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.
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
Anne Silversides, “Merchants of Science: How Commercialization is ChangingScience in Canada” (May 2008)
<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)
, doi:10.1038/nature.2012.10366. Hoag writes that Canada’s latest budget “push[es] formore collaboration between basic researchers and industry”.