Ethical Challenges of Patenting “Nature”: Legal and Economic Accounts of Altered Nature as Property

  • Mary Anderlik Majumder
  • Margaret M. Byrne
  • Elias Bongmba
  • Leslie S. Rothenberg
  • Nancy Neveloff Dubler
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 97)

Contemporary American society is increasingly focused on business and profit rather than social justice and the common good. As this direction gained ascendancy in the three decades before the 21st century the idea of asserting a monopoly over some idea or substance derived from nature seemed more and more justified and commonplace. So, for example, patenting the changes wrought in otherwise found compounds, substances and genetic material began to seem less and less like violation or mere copying of “nature” and more in balance with the government and social policies that surround general scientific development. A new boundary began to emerge from the mélange of judicial opinions, legislation and business practice: nature itself cannot be patented, but processes that alter nature and the products of those processes can be patented. The biotechnology industry, ever aware of its dramatic position and possibly controversial role, has attempted to reassure the public that it does not want to usurp the role of creator, claiming authorship of nature. However, when biotechnology companies augment, refashion or reconfigure products of nature, they assert that their investment should be recognized and recompensed. Controversy persists nonetheless, and hence it is worthwhile to consider how ethical concepts of nature might place limits on efforts to alter nature and make it property.


Intellectual Property Indigenous People Patent Protection European Patent Ethical Challenge 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Anderlik Majumder
    • 1
  • Margaret M. Byrne
    • 2
  • Elias Bongmba
    • 3
  • Leslie S. Rothenberg
    • 4
    • 5
  • Nancy Neveloff Dubler
    • 6
    • 7
  1. 1.Center for Medical Ethics and Health PolicyBaylor College of MedicineUSA
  2. 2.Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Miller School of MedicineUniversity of MiamiUSA
  3. 3.Religious Studies DepartmentRice UniversityUSA
  4. 4.David Geffen School of MedicineUCLAUSA
  5. 5.Kaiser PermanenteLos Angeles
  6. 6.Division of Bioethics and the Center for Ethics and Law in Medicine, Department of Family and Social MedicineMontefiore Medical CenterUSA
  7. 7.The Albert Einstein College of MedicineUSA

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