Appropriating the tools of research : patent law and biotechnology


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




Patent law creates economic incentives for individuals and companies to invest in research and development, as well as to disclose publicly and commercialize new inventions. In creating these incentives, patents also impose costs on society through reduced access to new inventions. Generally, the benefits of the patent system outweigh the costs, but in new and rapidly developing industries the patent system itself can act as a barrier to the development of new technologies. This is of particular concern in the biotechnology industry where a proliferation of patents on basic and fundamental research tools risks hindering further innovation. This problem was first noted by US academics where patent rights are generally considered absolute. In contrast to the US, there are mechanisms already in place within the Canadian patent system that can be used to balance the public interest in access to technologies with the private interest promoted by patents. Two such mechanisms are studied in depth and compared: experimental use and compulsory licensing. Current conceptions of the experimental use exception to patent infringement are inadequate to deal with abuses found when research tools are patented and an expanded experimental use exception is therefore proposed to address the deficiencies found in the current law. In comparison, existing compulsory licensing provisions within the Competition and Patent Acts are generally sufficient to ensure access to needed research tools. The essential facilities doctrine developed through US antitrust laws provides assistance in determining when such compulsory licences should be granted. Compulsory licensing has certain advantages over an expanded experimental use exception: it would only be used for tools where there are no reasonable alternatives available to the scientist; and it is more likely to be compliant with Canada's international obligations. Ultimately, however, an expanded experimental use exception is preferred since it more quickly and easily puts the tools required for research into the hands of the scientists.


Biotechnology -- Patents; Patent laws and legislation

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