In July 2010 I had the chance to participate in the IPBio symposium, Intellectual Property and the Biosciences, and the IPBio summer school held the next day. Over the course of the two days I had a great time. On one hand, the international symposium was led remarkably well by Mr Berris Charnley (University of Leeds) and Professor Gregory Radick (University of Leeds). Berris and Greg managed to organise an international event with the participation of some of the most important scholars, from both the EU and the US, currently working on issues around intellectual property rights and biotechnology. The symposium papers were very interesting especially as a wide range of subjects were analysed. Topics included stem cells, synthetic biology, plant variety protection and trademarks, to name just a few.
On the other hand, the summer school did not focus on the experts, but on PhD students. As a first year PhD student at that time, I had the chance to present my research to Professor Graham Dutfield (University of Leeds) and the Director of the IP Division of the World Trade Organization, Antony Taubman. Their comments provided me with valuable background information and feedback on my research. Furthermore, the experience boosted my confidence in addressing a paper to a panel of experts – English is not my first language. The feedback was not just limited to Professor Dutfield and Dr Taubman, who had both prepared specific comments on my work; many of the scholars that had presented research in the symposium were also involved in the summer school, and gave me free and frank advice and feedback on how I might develop my paper. Especially useful were the comments I received from Jane Calvert (University of Edinburgh), Rebecca Eisenberg (University of Michigan), Daniel J. Kevles (Yale University) and Thomas Baldwin (University of York).
The paper that I presented was part of my PhD research: Synthetic Biology and Intellectual Property Rights. The title was Genetic Resources, Intellectual Property Rights and Synthetic Biology. In this paper I attempted to address issues involving IPRs and synthetic biology in relation to the exploitation of genetic resources in biodiversity rich countries, which most often are also developing countries. I mentioned the different conflicts between regulation on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and IPR systems, especially TRIPs, and how such conflict might affect biodiversity rich countries as new developments in synthetic biology arise. I argued that disagreements between the CBD and TRIPs might create barriers to access to the benefits of synthetic biology. As a consequence, biodiversity rich countries might go through a traumatic transition as natural resources are appropriated into the working methods of synthetic biology. Comments by the panel and other participants pointed out that the scope of the research needed to be narrowed down and focused on a more black letter approach, rather than a multidisciplinary one. These observations were very helpful as I have subsequently developed the paper as part of my thesis.
The IPBio Network’s symposium and summer school was an important event for me, not least because of the integration it created between the symposium and summer school events. Running the two days together allowed both the senior and junior scholars to find a voice, and, if my experience is anything to go by, try out some exciting new ideas. I hope that the coming events will expand to other related subjects such as development.
Carlos A. Conde-Gutiérrez
PhD Candidate, University of Sheffield
Scholarship Universidad Externado de Colombia