1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Innogen · Research

Intellectual Property in the New Life Sciences

Jane Calvert

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ESRC Innogen Centre


This work is driven by an interest in how intellectual property rights interact with the changing objects of the biological sciences, or, to put it more broadly, with the relationship between the regulatory and the epistemic.

The kinds of questions that are being addressed are: what sorts of biological objects can be patented? And, if our understanding of the object of investigation changes, what implications does this have for patenting? For example, collaborative ownership regimes may be more practical than patents in the context of interacting and dynamic biological systems that we find in systems biology.

This project looks at the implications of the move away from reductionism and the shift from the appropriation of the tangible/material to the appropriation of the intangible/informational. It also examines the implications for intellectual property of the increasingly interdisciplinary and collaborative work environment of the emerging life sciences. It examines both the impact of intellectual property on scientific research, and of scientific research on intellectual property regimes.


  • What implications do changing ideas about the objects of ownership in the emerging life sciences have for existing intellectual property regimes?
  • How should intellectual property regimes be organised in the context of new kinds of objects of study in the biosciences?


Primarily desk-based work, drawing on the empirical material gathered from the projects on systems and synthetic biology.


Calvert, J. (2004) 'Genomic patenting and the utility requirement' New Genetics and Society, 23 (3): 301-312

O’Malley, M. A., Bostanci, A. and Calvert, J. (2005) 'Whole genome patenting' Nature Reviews Genetics, 6 (6): 502-506

Calvert, J. (2007) 'Patenting genomic objects: genes, genomes, function and information' Science as Culture, 16 (2): 207-223.

Bostanci, A and Calvert, J (2008) ‘Invisible genomes: the genomics revolution and patenting practice’ Studies in the History and Philosophy of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences 39: 109-119

Calvert, J (2008) ‘The commodification of emergence: systems biology, synthetic biology and intellectual property’ BioSocieties 3(4): 385-400

Calvert, J and Joly, P-B (2011) 'How did the gene become a chemical compound? Shifting ontologies of the gene and the patenting of DNA' Social Science Information, 50 (2): 157-177

Bonaccorsi, A, Calvert J, and Joly, PB (2011) 'From protecting texts to protecting objects in biotechology and software. A tale of changes of ontological assumptions in intellectual property protection' Economy and Society 40 (4): 611-639

Bostanci. A, Calvert, J and Joly, PB (2012) 'Regulating gene regulation: Patenting small RNAs' in Intellectual Property and Emerging Technologies: The New Biology Rimmer, M and McLennan, A (eds) Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp.205-227

Calvert, J (2012) 'Ownership and sharing in synthetic biology: a 'diverse ecology' of the open and the proprietary?' BioSocieties 7 (2): 169-187