Wednesday, June 17, 2015
I'm very pleased to tell readers about an upcoming conference, "Patents on Life: Through the Lenses of Law, Religious Faith and Social Justice," to be held at Cambridge University, England, on September 4 and 5. (See descriptions here and here.) It is co-sponsored by two institutes focused on Catholic thought and social and legal questions: the Von Hugel Institute at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge, and the Murphy Institute at the University of St. Thomas.
This will be a fantastic occasion bringing Catholic, and more generally Christian, social thought into conversation with law, ethics, and other disciplines on a range of challenging issues with deep implications for human development, social justice, the Church, industry and the marketplace, and the understanding of the human person. The brief online summary of some of the issues:
With the explosion of genetic technology and the drive to access and make use of genetic resources, the issues surrounding the patenting of living things and living material--human, animal, and plant--have become tremendously complex and important. What is the line between patentable scientific creations and unpatentable features of nature? What effects do patents on human genes, or on genetically modified crops, have on people in poverty or in developing countries? What is a fair allocation of indigenous genetic resources among traditional peoples and multinational corporations? What role should moral objections to particular technologies play in determining whether they can be patented? And what do religious insights have to offer on these legal, moral, and social questions?
As the conference links above indicate, we will be treated to an amazing range of speakers: some of the leading patent-law scholars in Europe and the US, current and former judges handling European patent and IP cases, Catholic and other bioethcists, voices from the practicing bar and the biotech industry--as well as several important figures in the Vatican's approach to intellectual property questions, including Abp. Silvio Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observer to the UN in Geneva; Steve Colecchi, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace for the USCCB; and the Vatican's lead officials on IP issues and on trade negotiations in Geneva.
If you are a reader in Europe, please consider coming to Cambridge in September (information here). If you're in the US, we understand it would be difficult (but Cambridge is beautiful in September!); in any event, we are working on systems for making the conference video available online after the conference ends. At least some of the conference papers will also be published.
The about-to-drop encyclical will call attention to Catholic teaching on ecology and the environment. Catholic and Christian teaching also have a great deal to say about intellectual property issues (see, e.g., some previous discussions here, here, and here)--and with biotech patents, the IP and environment questions overlap. We hope this conference will advance those connections in many ways.