Letter: Incentives for inventiveness

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The Independent Online
From Dr Trevor M. Jones

Sir: Kevin Watkins ("Whose property is life?", 20 November) is right to highlight the question of genetic engineering as one for public debate.

But it should not be confused, as Mr Watkins seems to do, with the issue of patenting biological inventions. A patent merely enables a patentee to limit unauthorised commercial use of a product or process - it neither permits commercialisation of the invention nor confers rights of ownership. Any controls which society deems necessary should not be applied to inventions or developments only through the patent law.

For these reasons, restricting patentability through European law's "morality" clause is both unnecessary and inappropriate. Not only is the term imprecise and arbitrary, but it is surely immoral not to encourage inventions which have the potential to alleviate human suffering. The next revolutions in alleviating human suffering, through conquering diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's and cystic fibrosis, will be the result of biotechnological or genetic research.

The pharmaceutical industry needs to be able to explore such exciting possibilities. It can only do this if there is an effective patent system in place to encourage it to maintain its multi-million pound investment into the research and development of new medicines.

Yours sincerely,

Trevor M. Jones


Association of British

Pharmaceutical Industry

London, SW1

21 November