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Should Morality be Within the Purview of Patent Law?

Beth Arnold, M.S., J.D., Foley, Hoag & Eliot

Patents are Economic in Purpose

“Congress shall have the power…to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” (Article 1, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution)

Morality is not a Patentability Consideration in the US. It is in Europe.


  • Any new, useful, and nonobvious machine, manufacture or composition of matter is patentable.
  • “Everything under the sun made by man.” (Diamond v Chakrabarty)


EPC law (Art. 53(a)) and EC Biotech Patent Directive exclude inventions, the commercial exploitation of which would be contrary to the “ordre public”.

The EC Directive Gives a Non-exhaustion List of Immoral Inventions

  • Processes for cloning humans;
  • Processes for modifying human germline;
  • Use of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes;
  • Processes for modifying animal germline, which cause suffering without substantial medical benefit
  • Plant & animal varieties and essential biological processes for their production

Arguments for Amending the Law to Prohibit Patenting of Certain Technologies

  • Will disincentivize investment in and ultimate commercialization of the technology
  • Upholds the sanctity of life and human dignity
  • Addresses public suspicion and distrust, perhaps facilitating acceptance of other technologies.

Arguments for Maintaining the Status Quo

  • Will threaten the US’s competitive advantage in biotechnology
  • There are other more effective means for regulating life science technologies (NIH, FDA, EPA, USDA)
  • Moral norms change over time.
  • Biotechnology does not pose a direct threat to a readily identifiable norm.

So Which Technologies are Morally Unacceptable?

  • Human Cloning?
  • Transgenic Animals?
  • Embryo Technologies?
  • Genetically Modified Foods?
  • Genes?

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Boston University. Video adapted from the Issues for the Millennium Workshop

Should Morality be Within the Purview of Patent Law?

Introduction: Jensine Andresen and Robert Neville
John Westling - Introduction: Do we have dominion over ourselves?
Overcoming Preconception Relating to Assisted Reproductive Technologies
Implications of Animal Cloning Experiments for the Potential Cloning of Human Beings
Production of Embryonic Stem Cells from Differentiated Somatic Cells
Application of Cloning to the Production of Biopharmaceuticals to Treat Human and Animal Disease
Xenotransplantation and its Associated Safety and Ethical Issues
Excluding Life from Patenting: Arguments against the Patenting of Genes
Science Panel Discussion
Ethical Challenges in a Post Genome Era
Human Rights and the New Genetics
Human Rights and Cloning
Democratizing Decision Making Relating to Biotechnology
Genetics, the Market, and Policy
Much Ado About Mutton: An Ethical Review of the Cloning Controversy
Why Worry about Human Cloning?
Modified Natural-Law Approach to Genetic Technologies
Ethics Panel Discussion
The World is Our Parish...So...?
Re-engineering Creation: Theological Reservations Concerning Genetic Technology
Possible Presbyterian Responses to Cloning
Biostewardish Updates
No, Not Yet, Maybe, and Why Not: Protestant Ambivalence Or Moral Discretion?
Beginning Reflections of One Unitarian Universalist on Cloning and Genetic Technologies
A Catholic Perspective on Cloning and Stem Cell Research
Created in Whose Image and Likeness? An Orthodox Christian Approach to Human Cloning
Thomas Shannon - "Playing God"
But Who Speaks for Me? The Need for the Religous Voice in Bioethics
In God's Garden: Creation and Cloning in Jewish Thought
A Jewish Perspective on Cloning and Other Techniques to Overcome Infertility
Islamic Perspectives on Cloning and Genetic Enginerring
A Hindu View based on Dharma, Karma and Yoga of Human Cloning and Genetic Technologies
The Bioethics of Interdependence: Shin Buddhist Attitudes on Human Cloning
Moral Imagination
Interreligious Panel Discussion
Science and the Courts
Beyond Biology: Regulating Ownership in a Knowledge-based Economy
Biotechnology and International Trade
Disharmonization in Agricultural Biotechnology
Historical Notes Relating to the Patenting of Biological Inventions
The International Treatment of Biotechnological Intellectual Property (BIP)
Legal Issues Panel Discussion
Science, Politics and Ethics of Cloning and Genetic Engineering: Who will Decide the Future of Humankind?
Cloning and Beyond: Making Laws for Making Babies
Issues For the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies - Index


Boston University

See also:

Pain and Suffering
Books on Biology, Genetics and Theology
Dolly the Cloned Sheep
Egg Manipulation
DNA Double-Helix