Intellectual Property and the Biosciences (7-8 July, 2010), White Rose IPBio Symposium and Summer School, University of Leeds

Symposium Videos

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About the Symposium

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Questions about the role of intellectual property (IP) in the biological sciences are high on the agenda, across a range of academic disciplines as well as in business and in government. Thanks to funding from the White Rose Consortium, staff and students at Leeds, Sheffield and York came together for discussion of the issues in the company of leading national and international experts at a two-day meeting held in Leeds on 7-8 July.

Combining a day-long symposium and a half-day summer school, the meeting marked the public launch of the White Rose IPBio Project - an offshoot of the IPBio Network. The project members are, from Leeds, Professors Gregory Radick (History and Philosophy of Science) and Graham Dutfield (Law); from Sheffield, Professors Aurora Plomer and Margaret Llewellyn, both in the Sheffield Institute for Biotechnological Law and Ethics; and from York, Professors Tom Baldwin (Philosophy) and Andrew Webster (Sociology). Invited talks at the symposium were given by Professor Robert Cook-Deegan (Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, Duke), Professor Daniel J. Kevles (History, Yale), Dr Bronwyn Parry (Geography, Queen Mary, London), Dr Jane Calvert (Innogen, Edinburgh), Professor Plomer, Mr Antony Taubman (Head of the IP Division, World Trade Organization, Geneva), Lady Lisa Markham (Harrison Goddard Foote, patent attorneys, Leeds) and Professor Rebecca S. Eisenberg (Law, Michigan).

After a brief introduction to the topic and the event (Gregory Radick), the symposium began with historical overviews of IP-related developments in molecular genetics (Robert Cook-Deegan) and plant breeding (Daniel J. Kevles), with lessons drawn for present policymakers. The second session shifted the focus more squarely to contemporary developments, with Aurora Plomer's examination of the gap between what is being patented in stem cell research and what is represented on the patent databases, followed by Bronwyn Parry's reflections on how and why issues of "brand identity" matter in the community of researchers involved with model mice. At the start of the afternoon, Jane Calvert surveyed the challenges to the patent system from the new modular approach to genetic engineering being developed in synthetic biology, while Antony Taubman provided a view of the ethical problems thrown up by biopatents from the perspective of someone trying to shape policy at the global level. In the final session participants were treated to two further "insider" views, first from Lisa Markham, who spoke as someone who (in the words of her title) "tiptoes around the restrictions" in seeking biotech patents in the EU for her clients, and from Rebecca S. Eisenberg, who drew on her long experience as an observer of IP and biotech in the US to throw light on dynamics peculiar to the US legal system and their bearing on the recent overturning of patents on genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer. The symposium closed with remarks from Tom Baldwin, Graham Dutfield and Andrew Webster, who, each from his distinctive disciplinary perspective, offered some parting, summarizing reflections on the day and where discussion might go from here.

The call for papers is available here, the final programme here, and posters for the symposium and summer school are available here: Symposium Poster, Summer School Poster. A review of the event by summer school participant Carlos Conde Gutierrez is available on the IPBio Blog.

The presentations were filmed by Berris Charnley, the project administrator and a PhD student in the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds, and edited by Faisal A. Qureshi.