1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Cesagen · News

International Work on Patents



Cesagen's work on intellectual property and patents in the biosciences is profiled


Intellectual property is an important focus of Cesagen’s work on the social and economic dimensions of genomics and the biosciences. Work at Cesagen Lancaster led by Dr. Paul Oldham with Dr. Stephen Hall and Dr. Oscar Forero has increasingly focused on large scale quantitative analysis of patent activity in the biosciences. The main focus of this work has been to provide evidence based analysis to inform policy makers participating in the work of the new Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-Sharing under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Increasingly research has also focused on informing debates at the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Early work at Cesagen focused on developing statistical data on trends for patent activity for biological diversity and traditional knowledge across the spectrum of industry sectors. During the second phase of Cesagen’s work this extended to developing capacity to use the World Patent Statistical Database (PATSTAT) to map patent activity for the biosciences around the world. As part of this work in 2009 the team developed an indicator for patent activity involving biological diversity for 53 European countries for use by the European Environment Agency as part of the 2010 European Biodiversity Targets.

Recent work has focused on the controversial subject of the disclosure of the origin of genetic resources and traditional knowledge in patent applications. This has been an extremely contentious subject in intergovernmental debates at the Convention on Biological Diversity and at the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore under the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

In collaboration with Geoff Burton at the Institute for Advanced Studies at United Nations University, in 2010 Dr. Oldham prepared a report entitled Defusing Disclosure in Patent Applications. The joint Cesagen and UNU report was released at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan in October 2010 in the context of the finalisation of the new Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-Sharing (UNEP/CBD/COP/10/INF/44).

Dr. Oldham and Mr. Burton also made a presentation of the report at the 17th Session of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore under the World Intellectual Property Organisation in December 2010. The report of the 18th Session of the Committee in May 2011 highlighted the relevance of the report on disclosure in the debates on disclosure of origin. At this juncture the committee was considering clusters of options and the timing to address these clusters in the negotiating text for a new potential treaty. Some delegations were arguing that further study was required on the issue of disclosure of origin. Cesagen and UNU’s contribution is reported as part of an intervention by South Africa on behalf of the African Group in the following terms.

“The Delegation of South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, appreciated the positive comments on the development of clusters A, B and C as a collective. In terms of time allocation, the current session had focused more on objectives and principles. There was a need to allocate some time to the options in B so as to give it as much substantive discussion as required. To that extent, it hoped to get support for requesting a work plan allocating time for that at IGC 19. During a side event at IGC 17 in December 2010, a group of prominent scholars from leading institutions in the UK, the ESRC Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (Cesagen), and also from the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies had made a presentation of a study on the use of disclosure in the patents (“Defusing Disclosure in Patent Applications”). It was an excellent and extensive study and the people that had commented on those issues were the same people that were raising questions at the present session. It reiterated that those studies had already been done. There was also an excellent study on the use of disclosure within the American system by using the Bayh-Dole Act. That was a disclosure requirement already in practice in the USA. Therefore, calling for more studies on such cases was unnecessary. Those papers, which were factually sound and proven, could be accessed through the websites. The facts had been proven within WIPO by the same people present at the said side event, where they made contributions to the discussions and complementing the presenters from leading reputable institutions within the western system of innovation. Those two points contributed towards a work plan in order to make that discussion possible within WIPO.” (para 263 of WIPO/GRTKF/IC/18/11 Prov.2 page 54)

As this example makes clear research on intellectual property in collaboration with UNU is informing intergovernmental debates directed towards a new instrument that could have significant implications for developing countries, indigenous peoples, local communities and genetic resources in the patent system.

In recent work Paul Oldham, Stephen Hall and Oscar Forero have been using High End Computing at Lancaster University to text mine millions of patent documents for over 1.9 million Latin species names. The initial results of this work have been presented at the Biodiversity Convention and WIPO and received an excellent response. The team are now preparing a submission on the results for a major journal.

Work on intellectual property at Cesagen and at UNU will continue for the remainder of Cesagen Phase 2. It is anticipated that recent work to index species appearing in patents will serve as a valuable tool for monitoring and tracking genetic resources and traditional knowledge under the Nagoya Protocol. The team also hope that the indexing work will continue to inform the deliberations of the WIPO intergovernmental committee as it moves towards a possible diplomatic conference on a new instrument in 2013.