Concern raised over the increasing commercialisation of science
20 Sept 2010
The increasing commercialisation of science is restricting
access to vital scientific knowledge and delaying the progress of
science, claim researchers on bmj.com.
In an article titled Why are we
copyrighting science?, Varuni de Silva and Raveen Hanwella from the University of
Colombo in Sri Lanka argue that copyrighting or patenting medical
scales, tests, techniques and genetic material, limits the level of
public benefit from scientific discovery.
For example, they found that many commonly used rating scales are
under copyright and researchers have to pay for their use.
Some genetic tests also carry patents, which prevent other
laboratories from doing the test for a lesser cost. Earlier this
year, a New York court ruled that patents held by Myriad Genetics
for the diagnosis of mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (linked
to breast and ovarian cancer) were unconstitutional and invalid.
Extreme commercialisation of science can also lead to patents on
medical procedures and techniques, say the authors. However, the
American Medical Association recently concluded that it is unethical
for physicians to seek, secure or enforce patents on medical
The scientific community is reacting to the increasing
commercialisation of science, they add. For example, all genome
sequences generated by the human genome project have been deposited
into a public database freely accessible by anyone, while
organisations such as the National Institute of Health and Wellcome
Trust insist on open access to publication resulting from research
funded by them.
The fundamental philosophy of Western science is sharing
knowledge and, while patenting is a useful tool for protecting
investments in industry, “we need to rethink its role in science,”
the researchers write.
They conclude: “Although those who consider science as a
commodity are willing to invest in research and development, much
medical research is still carried out by non-profit organisations
using public money. It is only right that such knowledge is freely
shared. This is possible because academic scientists still consider
the prestige of discovery more important than monetary reward.”
The full article can be viewed (pay per view) at: