Friday, July 11, 2008

Sulston and Stiglitz on the dangers of unbalanced IP

John Sulston and Joseph Stiglitz recently shared a platform at the launch of Manchester University’s new Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation and both warned of the dangers of unbalanced intellectual property laws and practices. From IP Watch:

"The basic framework of the intellectual property (IP) regime aims to “close down access to knowledge” rather than allowing its dissemination, Professor Joseph Stiglitz said at a 5 July lecture on “Who Owns Science?” Stiglitz, a 2001 Nobel Laureate in Economics, and Professor John Sulston, a 2002 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine, launched Manchester University’s new Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation.

Both were highly critical of today’s patent system, saying it stifles science and innovation.

IP is often compared to physical property rights but knowledge is fundamentally different, Stiglitz said. It is a public good with two attributes - “non-rivalrous competition” and non-excludability - meaning it is difficult to prevent others from enjoying its benefits. That runs counter to IP regimes, which are worse than exclusion because they create monopoly power over knowledge that is often abused, he said...

Sulston said science can be driven by need and curiosity, which requires a substantial degree of openness and trust among players. Increasingly, however, the picture is one of private ownership of science and innovation, a situation welcomed by governments and investors who control the direction of research, he said. But the consequence is to funnel science into profitable areas and steer clear of those that will not make money, he said.

That trend has several consequences, including the neglect of research on diseases of the poor and the production of unnecessary drugs sold through high-pressure marketing, Sulston said...

Reversing the trend toward privatisation of science is critical, Sulston said. The world should concentrate on the survival and thriving of humanity, and exploration of the universe, he said. The outcome, he added, depends to a great extent on “who owns science.”"

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