Monday, December 17, 2018

Gene Patents in AJOB

The December issue of the American Journal of Bioethics contains this target article on my argument for gene patents. The abstract:

In 2012, a new and promising gene manipulation technique, CRISPR-Cas9, was announced that seems likely to be a foundational technique in health care and agriculture. However, patents have been granted. As with other technological developments, there are concerns of social justice regarding inequalities in access. Given the technologies’ “foundational” nature and societal impact, it is vital for such concerns to be translated into workable recommendations for policymakers and legislators. Colin Farrelly has proposed a moral justification for the use of patents to speed up the arrival of technology by encouraging innovation and investment. While sympathetic to his argument, this article highlights a number of problems. By examining the role of patents in CRISPR and in two previous foundational technologies, we make some recommendations for realistic and workable guidelines for patenting and licensing.

My Open Peer Commentary reply to the target article is published here. A sample:

Our social justice lens thus ought to be a multifactorial lens, rather than a one-dimensional lens, in terms of the values and aspirations it addresses. Social justice requires not only the mitigation of serious disadvantage, but it also requires promoting the public good more generally (including through innovation), respecting liberty,and prudence in investing limited governmental resources. I do not believe appeals to any one value or principle will permit us to proclaim that, “all-things-considered,” justice prohibits or permits gene patents. The ancient proverb “the devil is in the details!” is very apt in the case of morally assessing intellectual property rights. A conceptual-level analysis of gene patents and intellectual property more generally misses these details because it focuses on a limited set of normative concerns (typically only liberty or equality).
I look forward to reading the other Peer Commentaries, and am grateful to Feeney and colleagues for their engagement with my argument for gene patents.