The International Expert Group on Biotechnology, Innovation and Intellectual Property, led by McGill law professor Richard Gold, argues that a new intellectual property era may be nigh. Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the group recently completed a seven-year project to develop a novel, data-intensive model of the role of IP in life sciences innovation. The study drew upon the expertise and experiences of an international network of contributors representing industry, universities, governments and NGOs. They found that the way that universities, start-ups and many companies use IP may actually impede innovation.
“The current system, ‘Old IP,’ rests on the belief that if some IP is good, more must be better,” says Gold. “While this may have been true 30 years ago, the world has evolved and our way of dealing with IP must change as well. If not, we face the prospect of the world’s medicine cabinet emptying out.” The group suggests that the world is moving toward a New IP era, in which partnership takes precedent over hoarding.
“We know that today, no one entity has the knowledge necessary to advance high technology by itself,” Gold adds. “We must find new ways of using our IP rights so that we can exchange ideas quickly and efficiently.” As an example of a promising New IP initiative, he cites the Structural Genomics Consortium, which brings together university and industry researchers to create probes for proteins useful in epigenetics—importantly, the probes are not IP protected and are available to whoever wants to use them. Gold adds that New IP doesn’t necessarily mean “no IP,” pointing to attempts to better deliver HIV and AIDS drugs to African communities by licensing patents to “an independent authority that would, in turn, license generic producers in developing countries.”
“If you are a university researcher wanting to change the world,” he says, “then you may need to start thinking about creative ways to share your knowledge, whether using IP or not.”