Sent: 29 March 2001 15:17
To: '[email protected]'
Subject: Re: How practical are IPRs in Least Developing Countries (LDCs)
[The full reference for Sagar et al. (2000) mentioned in the message of Willy Valdivia Granda on 28 March is Sagar, A.; Daemmrich, A; Ashiya, M. 2000. The tragedy of the commoners: Biotechnology and its publics. Nature Biotechnology 18:2-4.....Moderator]
I have just been reading an interesting article entitled: "Can Patents Deter Innovation? The Anticommons in Biomedical Research", which can be found on the online version of Science Magazine (http://www.sciencemag.org). [The full reference is Michael A. Heller and Rebecca S. Eisenberg, Science 1998 May 1; 280: 698-701 and it can be accessed by going onto the website mentioned and searching on the author Heller...Moderator].
The authors Heller, and Eisenberg make some valid points. They argue that the reverse of Garett Hardin's Tragedy of the commons is beginning to emerge. [This refers to the article by Garrett Hardin, 1968. Tragedy of the Commons. Science 162: 1243-1248. In the Tragedy of the Commons, Hardin attributes environmental degradation to the persistence of common property regimes in an age of scarcity....Moderator]. In the case of the commons, where too many owners have the danger of overusing a resource, the opposite is likely to happen in the case of the anticommons. In the anticommons, where numerous owners of a resource have the right to exclude others, a resource becomes underused. The transaction cost of engaging different owners becomes a major constraint to furthering any form of new innovation. At each step of negotiating use rights, different owners will have to rewarded. Some may even refuse to grant use of a license. Especially, if different sources of information, like gene sequences are essential to develop a product then the situation becomes extremely complex. They argue: " Such a proliferation of claims presents a daunting bargaining challenge. Unable to procure a complete set of licenses, firms choose between diverting resources to less promising projects with fewer licensing obstacles or proceeding to animal and then clinical testing on the basis of incomplete information."
These patents, especially, on gene sequence information, where no definitive function or product is known as yet, has also led to erroneous over-valuation of these patents. Something akin to what we have seen with artificially inflated share prices for dot.com companies, based on expected value of these companies rather than the actual value. This has probably led to increase in price for license use. The sense that one gets from reading such an article is that the development of an anticommons regime can lead to the stifling of further innovation, contrary to what is being professed by patent holders as being an incentive, reward and stimulus for further innovation.
Saliem Fakir, South Africa
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