Landmark Study Reports Breakdown in Biotech Patent System: Authors Call for Overhaul of Intellectual Property Laws Worldwide



    Authors document cases in rich, poor nations, where patents are
    preventing science from tackling disease and hunger

    OTTAWA, Sept. 9 /CNW Telbec/ - The world's intellectual property system
is broken, stopping lifesaving technologies from reaching the people who need
them most in developed and developing countries, according to a report
released in Ottawa today by an international coalition of experts.
    "We found the same stumbling blocks in the traditional communities of
Brazil as we did in the boardroom of a corporation that holds the patent to a
gene that can determine the chance a woman will develop breast cancer," said
Dr. Richard Gold, from McGill University and chair of the International Expert
Group that produced the report. "Most striking is that no matter where we
looked, the lack of trust played a vital role in blocking negotiations that
could have benefited both sides, as well as the larger public."
    "For better or for worse, biotechnology is at the heart of current
debates about health care, the environment, food and development," Gold said.
"It offers the promise of producing plants to resist drought and nourish the
world's poor, and to offer new medicines and energy sources. Biotech is at the
heart of not only today's economy but its security and well-being as well."
    Gold said that the authors based their report on revelations that came
out of discussions with policy-makers, industry representatives, scientists
and academics from around the world, as well as the outcomes of a series of
case studies involving Brazil, Canada, Kenya the United States, the European
Union, Japan, Australia, and India. Their contributions often grew out of
group sessions that allowed former opponents to talk to each other and
revealed information that explained to both sides the failure of their efforts
to find common ground, according to Gold. The authors portray a crucially
important but increasingly dysfunctional industry that relies on a business
model based on outdated conceptions of IP. In their report, the authors
describe conclusions and recommendations based on data collected over the last
seven years.
    While biotech's potential seems unlimited, so do its problems. The report
finds that a fixation on patents and privately-controlled research has
frequently given rise to controversy and roadblocks to innovation. Recent
examples include: the $612 million patent suit that almost shut down the
world's Blackberries; Myriad Genetics' inability to introduce its breast
cancer screening test in Canada and Europe; a pharmaceutical industry with an
increasingly bare medicine cabinet; an ongoing failure to deliver life-saving
medications to developing countries.
    Chad Gaffield, president of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research
Council of Canada (SSHRC), which funded the research activities that led to
the report, noted the work of the same group in helping international
organizations that are struggling with ways to improve access to biotech
breakthroughs for poor countries. Most recently for UNITAID, an international
governmental group, Gold and his colleagues have created the design for a
patent pool to unblock patents so that needed fixed dose combination and
pediatric antiretroviral medicines reach those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
    "The end of our old way of doing business does not mean we don't need a
system for protecting intellectual knowledge," Gold said. "We need an IP
system that will support collaborations among researchers and partners in
industry and academia worldwide so that knowledge gets to those who need it
most. This means the laws may have to be changed, but more importantly, it
means that we have a lot of work to do to change behaviors and build trust
among all the players. How people behave - in other words, their practices -
and the effect of practices on innovation is critical. Public and private
institutions also play an essential role in shaping the IP system."

    RECOMMENDATIONS

    The report released today, Toward a New Era of Intellectual Property:
From Confrontation to Negotiation, documents a series of failed attempts to
expand access to both traditional knowledge and the products of modern
biotechnology. The authors, members of the International Expert Group on
Biotechnology, Innovation and IP make a number of concrete recommendations to
address their findings. Pointing to governments, the private sector and
universities as crucial players, they call for better management of scientific
knowledge and new ways to measure whether technology transfers are working.
The following are among their key recommendations:

    
    Governments should:
    -------------------
    - Seek other ways to encourage innovation-not just IP-health and
      environmental regulations, the judicial system and tax rules, for
      instance.
    - Work with industry to help create respected and trusted entities whose
      members that can be counted on to mediate disputes fairly and encourage
      indigenous and local communities in policy development
    - Develop Public-Private Partnerships to conduct early stage research
      including through the sharing of health related data to allow the
      sharing of risk across industry.

    Patent offices should:
    ----------------------
    - Collect standardized patent-related information, including license data
      as they are doing in Japan
    - Assist developing countries and NGOs in finding out which patents exist
      in order to enable licensing

    Industry should:
    ----------------
    - Establish an independent, non-profit technology assessment organization
      to evaluate new biotechnology products from developing countries
    - Participate actively in the creation of Public-Private Partnerships and
      other collaborative mechanisms
    - Be transparent about patent holdings
    - Develop new business models that promote partnerships and
      collaborations

    Universities should:
    --------------------
    - Develop clear principles relating to the use and dissemination of
      intellectual property and promote greater access and broad licensing
    - Develop measures of the success of transfer of technology based on
      social returns rather than on the number of patents hold
    - Enter into collaborations between developed and developing countries to
      ensure that developing country doctoral and post-doctoral students have
      opportunities to study and work at home.
    

    About TIP

    TIP is an independent non-profit consultancy with experts in developed
and developing countries specializing in the understanding, use and management
of intellectual property. TIP's mission is to foster innovation and creativity
through the better use of intellectual property and its alternatives:
http://www.theinnovationpartnership.org/en/




For further information:

For further information: and interviews, please contact: Canada:
Mireille Bonhomme, (514) 435-2925, mireille@alainlabonte.ca; International:
Coimbra Sirica, (631) 757 4027, csirica@burnesscommunications.com; Carol Lin
Vieira, (401) 714-0821, cvieira@burnesscommunications.com

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