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Immoral Inventions – Interaction between Ethics and Biotechnology Patent Law

Elizabeth Siew-Kuan Ng

(2010) 22 SAcLJ 931

At the heart of the intersection between biotechnology and patent law lies the highly contentious and ill-defined role of ethics and morality. The recent controversies in the US, Europe and Australia relating to the patenting of human genes and stem cells, should serve as a “wake-up call” to re-evaluate the current role of morality in biotechnology patenting which seems, at times, to have relegated ethics and morality to outside of the patent realm save for a few exceptions. This article seeks to highlight that ethics and morality should play a more meaningful role in biotechnology patenting. A possible option may be for Parliament as “custodian of public values” to delineate the OB markers, as well as provide specific guidance on the types of biotechnological inventions that will be denied patentability for being contrary to morality/ordre public so that the evolution of the patent system in this biotechnology revolution will hold to its core principles that have the “public interest at their center”.