Friday, October 18, 2019
Yesterday I blogged about our shortly-forthcoming edited book of essays, Patents on Life: Religious, Moral, and Social Justice Aspects of Biotechnology and Intellectual Property. I've now posted on SSRN my chapter, which concludes the book with a summary of the essays and the themes. Here's a bit from the abstract:
This book gathers religious, secular moral, legal, and sociopolitical perspectives in one place. It aims to be a resource so lawyers, policy activists, and policymakers in patent debates might better understand what religious perspectives have to offer, and so religious thinkers and leaders might better understand biotech patents and thus have more to offer. The chapters include Christian, Jewish, and Muslim perspectives on bioethics and law--and both American and European perspectives on the limits of patentable material. The chapters explore various considerations: the importance of patents to innovation, the limitations on patenting of naturally occurring products and processes, the potential limits on patents stemming from distributive concerns, and the place of patents in international trade and development debates.
Three themes, summarized here, emerge from the balance of the chapters. First, patents on life call for evaluation under criteria of morality and social justice. Second, religious thought can contribute to (without dominating) such evaluations. Finally, however, for religious thought to contribute effectively, it must be more informed and sophisticated than it has been, about both patent law and biotechnology. The chapters aim to provide such knowledge.
This final chapter gives a good sense, I think, of what the rest of the book covers.
I hope readers interested in the "Catholic legal theory" project will give the volume a look--and suggest it to your academic libraries! First, take a look at it yourself. Second, pass the word to others who work, or have interests, in any of the areas of public moral theology, human life and dignity, technology, social justice, and development and human rights ("preferential option for the poor" etc). A few reasons why this topic may be of wide interest:
1) The vast majority of the chapters in the book are very accessible to non-scientists. It's meant to explain basic patent concepts, and genetic technologies, to religious thinkers (and explain religious ethics to patent lawyers and scientists). Patent law can get complicated, but at its base it has a quite comprehensible logic.
2) As I've argued in a previous paper on "intellectual property (IP) and the preferential option for the poor," IP laws, including patent, are by nature a kind of qualified (tho still valuable) property right that has parallels to Catholic approaches to property. IP is designed with social and common-good purposes in mind: encouraging innovation through exclusivity, while maintaining others' access through limits on exclusivity. Catholic thought on property tends to have a similar structure.
3) Partly because IP rights fit with the Catholic model of qualified and instrumental property rights, and partly because patents have affected poor people in developing nations, the Catholic Church has actually had quite a lot to say about them--albeit not in a systematic way. The Vatican has defended the right of indigenous people to control over and fair reward for the genetic resources, the claim of people in poverty to have access to essential medicines (including, for purposes of this book, "biologic" drugs produced from living organisms), and the claim of farmers to retain autonomy over genetically modified seeds in the face of licensing practices by companies holding patents on the seeds. This collection aims, among other things, (a) to make the Church's positions better known to policymakers in the field and (b) help Catholic thinkers integrate the important topic of IP into their understanding of Catholic social thought principles.
4) Because of the richness of Catholic social doctrines in this area, and because of the role of Catholic institutes in the project, we have several different Catholic contributors. Some focus very much on the development-and-poverty implications of patents on and access to biotechnologies. Others focus on the bioethical issues involved in giving humans ownership over materials or processes that are relatively close to "natural [God-created] phenomena." In any event, while the chapters contain considerable religious diversity in the chapters, they also contain a set of Catholic : essays that are rich, deep, and diverse. IP is now central to the economy and society, and not just in the biotech area. These essays will help people think through how Catholic thought applies to the "new form of ownership" that Saint John Paul II identified in Centesimus Annus (para. 32) as increasingly fundamental: "know-how, technology, and skill."