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Whose knowledge? What values? The comparative politics of patenting life forms in the United States and Europe

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Over the past few decades, a variety of groups have begun to argue that the US and European patent systems do not adequately represent the public interest in their decision making and that they need to undergo fundamental changes to their structure and orientation. These challengers have adopted similar strategies—in terms of the venues chosen and the arguments, evidence, and rhetoric used—in each context. However, they have experienced more success in Europe than in the United States. This paper begins to explain this difference by arguing that the US and European patent policy domains have different “expertise barriers”—formal and informal rules that make it difficult for those without the knowledge that is recognized as relevant and legitimate in that domain to engage as equals.

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  1. In particular, I interviewed: (1) current and former personnel at the PTO and the EPO, including those involved in public relations and communication, mid- and high-level management, examination in controversial areas including biotechnology and traditional knowledge, patent law interpretation, and patent search activities; (2) advocacy groups involved in challenging the patent systems in the US and Europe and the patent lawyers who represent them; (3) scholars (including legal scholars) involved in debates about patent policy in the US and Europe; and (4) companies and industrial lobbying organizations involved in patent policy debates in the US and Europe. In order to determine who to interview, I began by identifying—through analysis of relevant media sources, websites, patent office proceedings, and legislative hearings, among other things—all of the individuals who might be relevant to my study. After making contact with these individuals, I was able to interview the vast majority of them. I then used a snowball sampling methodology (asking these interviewees about additional contacts) to identify additional interviewees. Again, I continued to snowball sample until I had interviewed (or tried to interview) everyone who was suggested. In sum, I interviewed: 27 stakeholders, 21 patent lawyers and scholars, and 58 current and former patent office officials.


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Correspondence to Shobita Parthasarathy.

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Parthasarathy, S. Whose knowledge? What values? The comparative politics of patenting life forms in the United States and Europe. Policy Sci 44, 267–288 (2011).

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