In 8-9 December 2005, the ESRC Genomics Forum jointly funded and participated in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) international workshop roundtable on ‘Collaborative Mechanisms: Patent Pools, Clearinghouses & Collaborative Arrangements’. The event brought together international experts to debate the application of collaborative mechanisms in biotechnology and genomics. As genomics research becomes subject to extensive investment by public and private sectors, clear and effective regulatory structures to facilitate access to the technology and its benefits are essential. The regulation of innovation becomes increasingly dependent on the management of patents, licenses and other forms of intellectual property protections, the use of which raises challenges for existing policy and regulatory approaches. Recent concerns involve access to licensed inventions for follow-on research in particular, fast availability of vaccines and diagnostic genetic services in human health care.
Collaborative mechanisms can exist in the form of patent pools, patent clearinghouses and collaborative agreements. They are used to enhance access to biotechnological innovations for the purposes of research innovation and commercialisation. Collaborative mechanisms are increasingly being used successfully in fields other than biotechnology, such as in telecommunications. Among the particular case studies that were discussed in the context of genomics, during this workshop, was a current initiative on vaccines as essential medicines (SARS patent pool). OECD has conducted extensive work in the field, with two substantial international reports on Genetic Inventions, Intellectual Property Rights and Licensing Practices (2002) and Patents and Innovation: Trends and Policy Challenges (2004), and the very recent Guidelines on the Licensing of Genetic Inventions (2006) used for the purpose of human health care.
The aims of the ESRC Genomics Forum in this workshop were to help:
- examine current social and economic research on collaborative mechanisms in biotechnology, and genomics in particular
- identify the limitations and advantages of collaborative mechanisms in biotechnology innovation
- understand the possibilities for the use of collaborative mechanisms in this area, in an international context
The workshop was chaired by Prof. Joseph Strauss, Director of the Max-Planck-Institute, based in Munich, and expert in intellectual property protection of biotechnological inventions. Prof. Strauss is Chair to the Intellectual Property Rights Committee of the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) and a consultant to OECD, WIPO, EC-Commission, World Bank, the European Parliament and EPO. Workshop participants included senior international scientific, academic and policy experts in intellectual property, health and medical biotechnology from US, EU, Asia-Pacific, and biotechnology firm representatives. The ESRC Genomics Forum arranged for distinguished EGN colleagues to participate in the event. This partnership with OECD was part of the ESRC Genomics Forum remit to facilitate EGN research collaborations with policy stakeholders and to actively develop further links that EGN centres have established with OECD.