The German government hosted an OECD Expert Workshop on 24-25 January 2002. It aims were to provide Member countries with a better understanding of the data on the licensing practices in gene-based inventions; to document the benefits of gene patents as well as the concerns certain licensing practices have raised; and to discuss industrial and government strategies developed in response to the proliferation of gene-based patents.
The products, techniques and data biotechnology generates frequently test the boundaries of the intellectual property rights systems of OECD countries. Recently, there have been contentious debates about the granting of patents for genetic material (genes, DNA sequences, SNPs, ESTs, cDNA), as well as the subsequent licensing practices of the organisations that hold these patents. Ethical debates aside, a number of concerns have been raised about the impact of licensing practices for gene patents on the research environment, on market dynamics for new product development, and on clinical uptake of new tests and treatments. Unfortunately, governments are at a loss to evaluate the concerns raised because the cases remain anecdotal, and their frequency and impact are rarely documented. The Working Party on Biotechnology agreed in February 2001 to a project on Genetic Inventions, IPRs and Licensing Practices. The first activity for this project will be to convene a Workshop of Experts to discuss the data, cases, and studies available on the patenting and licensing practices of firms and research organisations related to gene-based inventions. The Experts will be asked if the information presently available can clarify whether the current system of protection for gene-based inventions is working to achieve desired social and economic goals. The objectives of the Workshop were to provide OECD member countries with a better understanding of the data available on licensing practices in gene based innovations; to document the benefits of gene patents as well as the concerns certain licensing practices have raised; and to discuss novel strategies - for example cross-licensing, consortia, patent pools, and model licensing agreements - which have been developed in response to the proliferation of gene-based patents. The Workshopalso endeavoured to identify possible responses tochallenges and articulate recommendations - to governments, firms, or funding agencies - about how gene-based inventions might best be used in the public interest.
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