|SCIENCE AND CENTS|
October 20, 1997
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Questions answered in this forum:
What exactly can scientists patent? Should we limit people's right to patent discoveries? How do you balance the need for long-term research versus the need for profits? Do politics affect scientific activities? What are the underlying economic and institutional issues? Viewer Comments.
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Susan Thomas of Mauldin, SC, asks:
Too often one indication of change is mistaken for coverage of an entire change phenomenon, and that seems abundantly to be the case in discussions of changes to the domains in science and business being reduced to issues of patents and profits. Can and will you lend greater insight into the larger global, institutional and economic basis of both the underlying and emerging issues in these regards?
Prof. Eisenberg of the Univ. of Michigan replies:
It is impossible to do justice to your big question in this forum given time and space constraints, but I think your suspicion that current tensions over patents and profits in science are a manifestation of larger changes is well-founded.
A number of factors converge to make these issues particularly salient in the current environment, including a blurring of boundaries between public and private in research science, growing political pressure to use the U.S. research enterprise to enhance the competitive position of U.S. firms in world markets, a political climate of skepticism toward government funding as a solution to problems, a financial climate that makes firms impatient to see quick returns on investments, and increasing pressures to hold down costs in areas such as health care that feed into the research enterprise. I agree with your intuition that any efforts to address problems raised by patents and profits in science need to take these larger forces into account.
Dr. Bloom of Science replies:
This is a very far ranging question that goes well beyond my own experiences as a scientists and editor. I am most impressed with the broad views being stated by such import ant economists as Professor Thurow of MIT, as noted in his paper in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review. He asserts that a new form of intellectual property rights rule is needed to offer some protection for the discovery of new ways to share information, and the intellectual content within a gene or a genome that goes well beyond the specific information that such a discovery provides today, and into the future connections of that information as the data base of genetic (or other) information gets more and more complete.Viewer Comments.
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