Emerging biotechnologies: technology, choice and the public good


Published 13/12/2012

Emerging biotechnologies cover
Biotechnologies are significant in many aspects of life, from food and energy production to medicine, industry, and economic development.
Women microscope

Commercialisation of emerging biotechnologies faces particular challenges due to the long development phase and uncertain outcomes.

Intellectual property

The main activity in biotechnology development is the production of knowledge. The commercialisation of that knowledge depends upon having a system for protecting intellectual property, the most important element of which is the patent system. However, patenting has two main failings in relation to emerging biotechnologies:

The 20 year term of most biotechnology patents is likely to be too short to recoup investments, since most (if not all) of that time will often have passed before the technologies can be brought to market.

Patents for emerging biotechnologies can be very broad, thus discouraging research that will lead to products that may fall within the scope of the patent and therefore require a licence.

Promoting the social value of innovation

A more fundamental problem is that the patent protection of knowledge, together with market pricing, restricts access to the fruits of research, and creates a pattern of incentives and rewards that does not reflect the social value of innovation.

We conclude

Consideration should be given to state interventions in the market for new biotechnologies to secure the social benefits of innovation by directly rewarding socially valuable innovations.

Innovation should be included in corporate social responsibility reports as a separate, specific issue [Chapter 9].