Can You Copyright Science? The Debate Over Accessibility
Researchers from University of Colombo in Sri Lanka have raised an important question to the medical and scientific public: Can medical scales, tests, techniques and genetic materials be patented or copyrighted? Or better, do these legal rights restrict access to public health care and the advancement of treatment and discovery? BMJ.com published the study formed by Varuni de Silva and Raveen today.
Many rating scales that help clinicians obtain information and diagnose are under copyright and carry a charge for usage. Many genetic tests are patented, disallowing alternate laboratories to conduct the same tests at a fraction of the cost. However just this year in a win for one side of the debate, a New York court ruled that patents held by Myriad Genetics for the diagnosis of mutations in genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer evolution were unconstitutional and invalid.
Surprisingly enough, there was a time when procedures and operating techniques were able to be horded via patents and copyrights. The AMA (American Medical Association) recently concluded that it is unethical for physicians to seek, secure or enforce such patents.
According to De Silva and Raveen, the scientific community is refuting commercialization of science as we speak. It has been implemented that all genome sequences produced by the human genome project are now entered into a database that all have public access to. In addition, the National Institute of Health and Wellcome Trust (established in 1936 as an independent charity funding research to improve human health) will not fund studies that will not be open for public consumption.
While appreciating that the protection of ideas and invention is very important in relation to industry investments, it is necessary to heavily analyze the role it plays in science the authors mention.
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 organizations 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.