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Genomics Forum · Research

Genomics and Intellectual Property

Nadja Kanellopoulou

Start date



Nadja Kanellopoulou - since left the Genomics Forum

Please contact: forum@genomicsnetwork.ac.uk


Funding and research resources for genomics advances are secured via public and private investment. Intellectual property (IP) systems have gained strategic importance in protecting research and investment by fostering competitive innovation and interest towards gene-targeted drug development. However, social, ethical, legal, economic and political concerns increase about the use of IP regimes in genomics research. International experts contest whether overly broad IP rights stifle research or push drug costs and thus hinder access to medicines and sustainable development. Critics target the absence of comprehensive policies to ensure that genomic technologies are affordable and available quickly and responsibly. Consensus increases among academic, policy and stakeholder actors about the importance of new equitable models for knowledge management and resource protection, but their implementation is slow.

These discussions are matched by wider concerns about the implementation of IP systems in genomics questioning the nature, status and interpretations of genomic knowledge and the ethical, legal, social implications of patentability of DNA. As genomics advances challenge current perceptions of identity, cultural membership, ownership and control of the human body, the need to identify strategies for pragmatic and socially informed governance becomes vital in promoting effective management of genomic knowledge towards social and economic development.


The Genomics and Intellectual Property work stream identifies emerging issues for systematic public policy in genomics, IP and health governance. The project explores how IP models are constructed, their impact on availability of genomic technologies, their influence on health governance and their relationship with international human rights norms. The project forwards interdisciplinary research, policy and business collaborations to help discuss current problems in genomics, health and IP governance. These examine the advantages and limitations of IP regimes in drug research and development, the role of international policy organisations in regulating IP and genomics, the impact of commercialisation on public trust, the implementation of social, ethical values and diverse systems of knowledge and the use of equitable and collaborative models in genomics governance, mechanisms for control of human tissue and property rights in the body.

This work stream addresses the key themes of ‘Globalisation and Governance’ and ‘Innovation and the Evolution of Industries in the Life Sciences’.


This workstream investigates the impact of intellectual property systems in genomics with the remit to facilitate academic and policy synergies in dynamic and comparative research and policy context. The project follows the Forum’s remit to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations between researchers, policy, business, clinicians, patients, stakeholders, civil society and different publics involved in genomics and health governance. Two expert workshops in 2006-2007 brought together policy-makers, researchers, lawyers, scientists, economists, social scientists, philosophers, private and public stakeholders involved in the regulation of genomics, intellectual property and health, to discuss case studies on the economic and social impact of the implementation of intellectual property systems in genomics research. For details on activities under this workstream, please see below:

Intellectual Property (IP) Workshops

  • ' was held in Edinburgh, March 2006, with the general theme "Access and Benefit Sharing"
  • was organised in Edinburgh, February 2007, with focus on research "Commercialisation and Control".

Biobanks, Commerce and Public Trust

Gene Banks and Commerce Workshop - This workshop was part of series of activities organised during the visit of Prof. David Winickoff, Assistant Professor of Bioethics and Society, University of California, Berkeley, in August 2006, under the auspice of the Forum's Visiting Research Fellowship (VRF) programme.

OECD Workshop on Collaborative Mechanisms

- The ESRC Genomics Forum participated in the OECD workshop on ‘Collaborative Mechanisms: Patent Pools, Clearinghouses & Collaborative Agreements’, in December 2005. The workshop brought together international experts to discuss the application of collaborative mechanisms in biotechnology and genomics. The Forum supported the event as a capacity-building activity in research engagement with international policy stakeholders in genomics.


Workshop participants and collaborating colleagues have been invited to submit working papers and research and policy briefs to help communicate issues for responsible research and policy practices in the regulation of IP, genomics and health. These publications are dedicated on the following key themes:

  • The impact of exclusive proprietary systems on genomics research and development
  • The ethical, legal, social implications of patenting and licensing in genomics research
  • Public trust and commercialisation of genomics research
  • Property, control and sharing models for equitable uses of genomics research
  • The relationship of intellectual property with human rights and health governance

An edited volume is being planned under this workstream, with the preliminary title 'Patents, Genomics and Commercialisation - Ethical, Legal and Social Concerns about Intellectual Property Governance in Genomics' (Genomics, Society and Policy, April 2008)

For further information on this workstream please email Nadja Kanellopoulou at nadja.kanellopoulou@ed.ac.uk


Kanellopoulou, N., The Impact of Intellectual Property on Genomics Governance (2006)