Working Paper BETA #2007-24

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Title : Research Tool Patents and Free-Libre Biotechnology: A Unified Perspective

Author(s) : Julien Pénin, Jean Pierre Wack

Abstract : This paper proposes a unified conceptual framework to analyse the multiple role and consequences of patents in the case of biotechnology research tools. We argue that the knowledge/information and independent/complementary nature of research tools define heterogeneous frameworks in which the patent system plays different roles. In particular, using the analogy with the free-libre open source movement in software, we show that patents can promote open innovation by ensuring the freedom of some pieces of knowledge. A strong conclusion of the paper is therefore that, against common belief, an adequate use of the patent system may contribute to preserving freedom of access to upstream research tools within a framework that we call free-libre biotechnology.

Key-words : Intellectual property rights, sequential innovation, open source, life science, collective invention.

JEL Classification : D2, O3.