Browsing by Organization "University of Helsinki, Faculty of Law, IPR University Centre"

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  • Agovic, Amina (2011)
    Embryonic stem cells offer potentially a ground-breaking insight into health and diseases and are said to offer hope in discovering cures for many ailments unimaginable few years ago. Human embryonic stem cells are undifferentiated, immature cells that possess an amazing ability to develop into almost any body cell such as heart muscle, bone, nerve and blood cells and possibly even organs in due course. This remarkable feature, enabling embryonic stem cells to proliferate indefinitely in vitro (in a test tube), has branded them as a so-called miracle cure . Their potential use in clinical applications provides hope to many sufferers of debilitating and fatal medical conditions. However, the emergence of stem cell research has resulted in intense debates about its promises and dangers. On the one hand, advocates hail its potential, ranging from alleviating and even curing fatal and debilitating diseases such as Parkinson s, diabetes, heart ailments and so forth. On the other hand, opponents decry its dangers, drawing attention to the inherent risks of human embryo destruction, cloning for research purposes and reproductive cloning eventually. Lately, however, the policy battles surrounding human embryonic stem cell innovation have shifted from being a controversial research to scuffles within intellectual property rights. In fact, the ability to obtain patents represents a pivotal factor in the economic success or failure of this new biotechnology. Although, stem cell patents tend to more or less satisfy the standard patentability requirements, they also raise serious ethical and moral questions about the meaning of the exclusions on ethical or moral grounds as found in European and to an extent American and Australian patent laws. At present there is a sort of a calamity over human embryonic stem cell patents in Europe and to an extent in Australia and the United States. This in turn has created a sense of urgency to engage all relevant parties in the discourse on how best to approach patenting of this new form of scientific innovation. In essence, this should become a highly favoured patenting priority. To the contrary, stem cell innovation and its reliance on patent protection risk turmoil, uncertainty, confusion and even a halt on not only stem cell research but also further emerging biotechnology research and development. The patent system is premised upon the fundamental principle of balance which ought to ensure that the temporary monopoly awarded to the inventor equals that of the social benefit provided by the disclosure of the invention. Ensuring and maintaining this balance within the patent system when patenting human embryonic stem cells is of crucial contemporary relevance. Yet, the patenting of human embryonic stem cells raises some fundamental moral, social and legal questions. Overall, the present approach of patenting human embryonic stem cell related inventions is unsatisfactory and ineffective. This draws attention to a specific question which provides for a conceptual framework for this work. That question is the following: how can the investigated patent offices successfully deal with patentability of human embryonic stem cells? This in turn points at the thorny issue of application of the morality clause in this field. In particular, the interpretation of the exclusions on ethical or moral grounds as found in Australian, American and European legislative and judicial precedents. The Thesis seeks to compare laws and legal practices surrounding patentability of human embryonic stem cells in Australia and the United States with that of Europe. By using Europe as the primary case study for lessons and guidance, the central goal of the Thesis then becomes the determination of the type of solutions available to Europe with prospects to apply such to Australia and the United States. The Dissertation purports to define the ethical implications that arise with patenting human embryonic stem cells and intends to offer resolutions to the key ethical dilemmas surrounding patentability of human embryonic stem cells and other morally controversial biotechnology inventions. In particular, the Thesis goal is to propose a functional framework that may be used as a benchmark for an informed discussion on the solution to resolving ethical and legal tensions that come with patentability of human embryonic stem cells in Australian, American and European patent worlds. Key research questions that arise from these objectives and which continuously thread throughout the monograph are: 1. How do common law countries such as Australia and the United States approach and deal with patentability of human embryonic stem cells in their jurisdictions? These practices are then compared to the situation in Europe as represented by the United Kingdom (first two chapters), the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Patent Office decisions (Chapter 3 onwards) in order to obtain a full picture of the present patenting procedures on the European soil. 2. How are ethical and moral considerations taken into account at patent offices investigated when assessing patentability of human embryonic stem cell related inventions? In order to assess this part, the Thesis evaluates how ethical issues that arise with patent applications are dealt with by: a) Legislative history of the modern patent system from its inception in 15th Century England to present day patent laws. b) Australian, American and European patent offices presently and in the past, including other relevant legal precedents on the subject matter. c) Normative ethical theories. d) The notion of human dignity used as the lowest common denominator for the interpretation of the European morality clause. 3. Given the existence of the morality clause in form of Article 6(1) of the Directive 98/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 1998 on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions which corresponds to Article 53(a) European Patent Convention, a special emphasis is put on Europe as a guiding principle for Australia and the United States. Any room for improvement of the European morality clause and Europe s current manner of evaluating ethical tensions surrounding human embryonic stem cell inventions is examined. 4. A summary of options (as represented by Australia, the United States and Europe) available as a basis for the optimal examination procedure of human embryonic stem cell inventions is depicted, whereas the best of such alternatives is deduced in order to create a benchmark framework. This framework is then utilised on and promoted as a tool to assist Europe (as represented by the European Patent Office) in examining human embryonic stem cell patent applications. This method suggests a possibility of implementing an institution solution. 5. Ultimately, a question of whether such reformed European patent system can be used as a founding stone for a potential patent reform in Australia and the United States when examining human embryonic stem cells or other morally controversial inventions is surveyed. The author wishes to emphasise that the guiding thought while carrying out this work is to convey the significance of identifying, analysing and clarifying the ethical tensions surrounding patenting human embryonic stem cells and ultimately present a solution that adequately assesses patentability of human embryonic stem cell inventions and related biotechnologies. In answering the key questions above, the Thesis strives to contribute to the broader stem cell debate about how and to which extent ethical and social positions should be integrated into the patenting procedure in pluralistic and morally divided democracies of Europe and subsequently Australia and the United States.