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Patents, Bioethics and the Human Body: Reconceptualising Bioethics in Patent Decision-Making and the Governance Function of Patents


PatentsInHumans challenges the current marginalisation of bioethics in patent decision-making for technologies related to the human body. A patent gives a rightsholder the right to stop others using a patented technology. This allows them to control how that technology is provided, to whom, and on what terms. Where patents are for technologies related to the body, this control poses considerable bioethical issues because patents can affect how we treat, use and modify bodies. Yet patent systems generally do not engage with such implications. All patents are treated the same, regardless of the underlying technology i.e. a patent on an engine part is treated the same as a patent on a medicine, despite the significant effects the latter has for health.

PatentsInHumans proposes that there is a self-reinforcing cycle where patents are granted even if bioethical implications are posed by patents over such technologies; that there are limited incentives for rightsholders to license patents in a way that addresses bioethical implications, and that patents, once granted, are difficult to challenge if bioethical issues arise. PatentsInHumans radically reconceptualises patents as governance devices over the body in such contexts. It proposes that when patents are applied for, the underlying technology’s relationship to the body must be considered. The project will therefore evaluate the bioethical implications that patents over such technologies have for how we treat, use, or modify our bodies. These implications must guide patent decision-making and the adoption of licensing or grant conditions that pre-empt bioethical issues. The project develops a cross disciplinary institutional analysis to evaluate key legal, structural and cultural barriers leading to the marginalisation of bioethics in patent decision-making, and to formulate pathways to bring bioethics into patent decision-making for technologies related to the body with important conceptual and policy implications


Net EU contribution
€ 1 499 958,75
Co Kildare
W23 Maynooth

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Ireland Eastern and Midland Dublin
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00