View from the Bench: Patents and Material Transfers

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Science  23 Sep 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5743, pp. 2002-2003
DOI: 10.1126/science.1115813

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In light of concerns that the growing number of patents on research inputs may impose significant costs on upstream, noncommercial research, Walsh et al. examine the effects of patents on access to both intellectual property and materials required by academic biomedical researchers. They found that patents generally are not used to deny access to knowledge inputs, but that access to others' research materials is more difficult. This restricted access to materials appears to be the result of academics' commercial activities, scientific competition, the time and effort required to satisfy requests, and whether the material in question is a drug. Policy debates about scientific progress in biomedicine may benefit from shifting the focus away from patents and toward the welfare effects of restricted access to research materials.