Ethics in IP, Part Two: Can I patent this fish?

This is the second part of a series (most likely of three parts) on ethics in intellectual property law. The first part is available here: “is there a role for ethics in intellectual property?“. In this part we focus on biotechnology and biological inventions.

In my last post I wrote about how ethical principles underlie the rights conferred by intellectual property law, and also how they shape the exceptions to those rights, both in relation to patentability, and infringement. More of the same this time round, but with a greater focus on humans, and plants, and micropigs.

In particular I want to look at the following propositions: why you can’t patent something in nature just because you discovered it; why you can’t patent plants or animals; and why some biotechnological inventions are unpatentable because of their effect on human dignity.… Read more...

Is there a role for ethics in Intellectual Property?


This is the first in a series of posts that will explore the interaction between ethics and the law of intellectual property. This first post will look at the ethics underlying intellectual property law, and the extent to which ethics has shaped exceptions to rights in intellectual property law.

Intellectual property and ethics may seem strange companions to some practitioners, but the law of intellectual property is philosophically rooted in ethical considerations. George Bell, a Scottish advocate in the early part of the 19th century, described the moral imperative behind intellectual property protection:

Of all things, the produce of a man’s intellectual labour is most peculiarly distinguishable as his own; and the Patents, or the statutes on which Copyright now rests, are intended not so much to create a right, as to protect it against invasion

George Bell, Commentaries on the Law of Scotland

Bell’s perspective reflects the philosophical conception of intellectual property originating in the work of John Locke, writing in his Second Treatise on Government.… Read more...