Assessing the morality of the commercial exploitation of inventions concerning uses of human embryos and the relevance of moral complicity.

Sigrid Sterckx, Julian Cockbain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

In late 2008, the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office (EPO) reached a decision supporting the rejection of a patent application on human embryonic stem cells filed by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). This article comments on some of the shortcomings of the decision. The key legal provisions at issue in this case were Rule 28(c) EPC, which forbids the granting of patents in respect of biotechnological inventions which concern uses of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes, and Article 53(a) EPC, the morality provision of the European Patent Convention. The Board rightly found the Rule to exclude WARF's claims (but, we argue, left a "deposit loophole"). However, one of the issues the Board had to address was whether the Rule might not apply because it extended the scope of prohibited subject matter beyond that prohibited by the Article. We argue that, unless the Article had been found to exclude patentability, the applicability of the Rule could not be determined. Even though at the oral hearing before the Board, both WARF and the EPO President identified the question whether the Article (the morality provision) constituted a barrier to patentability as the core issue in this case, the Board astonishingly decided that this question did not need answering (even though the Board did hint at the basis for the answer). We argue that this is a major shortcoming of the decision. Finally, we comment on the relevance of moral complicity to the question of patentability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-103
Number of pages21
JournalSCRIPT-ed
Volume7
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2010

Keywords

  • human embryonic stem cells
  • patentability
  • ethics
  • moral complicity

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