Nature as "Invention"
Can industrial property rights be granted for living beings or natural products? This has been a contentious issue for more than 100 years. Rapid advances in the life sciences are exacerbating this debate.
Patents are protective rights to technical inventions. In the European legal sphere, they are only granted for products or processes that are the result of an inventive step and are technically applicable. So far, so understandable. If you now think of patents on living beings or biological substances and processes, it is sometimes not immediately obvious to what extent these are human inventions. This dilemma and the ethical questions associated with industrial property rights to nature have always led to difficult discussions. Innovations such as the CRISPR-Cas method are now reigniting the dispute.
Patents on things that are bio(techno)logical inventions in the broadest sense have been around for a surprisingly long time. As early as 1873, the microbiologist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) had his improved process for the production of yeast cultures registered as a patent both in France (patent 98476) and in the United States (US patent no. 141072A). It is historically the first industrial property right to a microorganism. However, shortly after it was granted, the US realized that isolated and purified forms of a naturally occurring substance or living being should not be patentable, as they were products of nature. The so-called Product of Nature doctrine was born…