Genomics, Patents, and Human Rights

Michiel Korthals*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


The life sciences have changed enormously: new disciplines, such as genomic and metabolomic technologies, have revolutionized the descriptive and normative power wielded by these disciplines. The technological developments accompanied by new scientific approaches and positions make the daily practices in the laboratories of the life sciences radically different from life science practices before these developments. New organizations of scientific work emerge and this has a deep social and normative impact. In these new life science approaches and practices, new norms and values are incorporated which are significantly different from the earlier forms of life science practices. Both internally and externally these new sciences have acquired new forms of descriptive and normative impact. These impacts affect human rights, both in a positive and in a negative way, but they also regard ownership issues. We will first discuss the role of human rights focused on the life sciences, and then discuss the functions and roles of the life sciences. Although currently ownership issues of the life sciences are regulated via the worldwide agreed-upon Intellectual Property Rights regime, it is doubtful how far this regime can fruitfully organize life science innovations, both from the view of the progressive developments of the life sciences as well as from a human rights' perspective. The function of patents and other types of ownership will therefore be extensively discussed. Finally, we finish with a short discussion of several alternative or complimentary proposals to the current patenting regime that are more firmly based on human rights.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGenomics and Society: Ethical, Legal, Cultural and Socioeconomic Implications
EditorsDhavendra Kumar, Ruth Chadwick
PublisherElsevier Inc. Academic Press
ISBN (Print)9780127999210, 9780124201958
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Biological resistance
  • Expansive patents
  • Food and participation in knowledge
  • Human right to health
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Privatization
  • Public health and food security
  • Social justice
  • Sustainability
  • Traditional knowledge

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