The major advances in research into the basis of life, especially over the last two decades, threatens to lead - as discoveries and/or inventions are made and, as a result, patents are taken out - to a process of private acquisition and hence commercialisation of the world's gene stock.
Pierre-Benoit Joly and Bertrand Hervieu first outline the dangers inherent in these developments and then go on to discuss the various "innovation regimes", in particular how we have shifted from agricultural research shaped mainly by public bodies and the farming community to genome -soon to be post-genome- research dominated by multinational firms, that incite moves to strengthen intellectual property considerations.
Rather than making the argument one of public versus private control, the authors favour seeking a third way. They begin by analysing the reasons behind patent laws (whose purpose is to encourage research while fostering the spread of innovations), while at the same time they emphasize the problems in practice, especially where life-forms are involved, and the benefits and drawbacks that may arise when patent laws are applied too rigidly.
They then show that other ways of protecting inventions exist which make it possible to share financial resources and genetic material (as has happened in the case of cattle). With these precedents in mind - for which they also sketch the advantages and disadvantages- they make a plea for a European model based on sharing resources, with references to successful initiatives of this kind in both the United States and Europe.