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From the Archive

University of Miami, Florida

“Intellectual Property and Control.” Academic Medicine. 1993;68(9 suppl):S88–S91.

For articles on a related topic, see Part 2 of this issue.

We say that every story has at least two sides or credible perspectives. The story of intellectual property, though, has at least six sides: those of individual researchers; of their academic institutions; of corporate, government, and philanthropic sponsors; and of society. Society itself may have several subsets: taxpayers, people who have illnesses or diseases, investors, and so on.

The members of these groups do not always agree even among themselves. Within both government and academe, for instance, there are different and competing schools of thought, although some schools have more adherents than others. In universities, many believe that intellectual property rights are limited and that the openness and intellectual interdependence that marked and contributed to the rise of the research university are anathema to notions of intellectual ownership and control.

… There is already some evidence that good results can be got [sic] when incentives do not include the prospect of assigning proprietary status to the results of research. The evidence is nothing less than the numerous examples of significant, university-based medical advances made by people who either knew in advance that the work would not make them rich, or who never gave it a thought. There were many and great research efforts in biology before biotechnology—the science responsible for much of the current pressure to protect intellectual property in medicine—existed as a science. And, for instance, it wasn't until 1987 that a degree in biology counted towards licensing requirements for practicing before the U.S. Patent Office.

… A patent is widely and correctly acknowledged as a valuable way to ensure quality control; patenting itself constitutes a form of publication; and patents serve a valuable economic function by protecting some investors' interests, which can stimulate the manufacture and distribution of important health products. But when a patent is used to keep an idea off the market, to justify excessive profits, or to exert excessive intellectual control, then it has become injurious to the scientific community and to society.

© 2002 Association of American Medical Colleges