I aim to shed light on the extent to which advance in the life sciences was directed by the profit motive and the availability of the patent system … and on the ways that the patent ‘institution’ evolved in response to science and to interest groups, mainly business ones, but also legal practitioners associated with business.
~ Graham Dutfield

IPRights DutfieldIn Intellectual Property Rights and the Life Science Industries: Past, Present and Future, Graham Dutfield presents a perspective on how we got to where we are in life sciences patenting — and where we are likely headed —  through the co-evolution of the patent system and the life science industries since the mid-19th century. This book follows the origins of the pharmaceutical industries in advances in synthetic chemistry and in natural products research and how these approaches to drug discovery and business have shaped patent law.

Seven Tales of a Patent

Dutfield reviews the past invention f pharmaceuticals to show the co-development of patents and pharma.  Dutfield describes specific businesses, products and technologies, including Bayer, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline.  He writes of the true stories of the development of mauve dye, aspirin, warfarin, streptomycin, and omeprazole, polymerase chain reaction and the oncomouse.

In one story, we learn that insulin is a natural product that was named, patented and made available for therapeutic use in the 1920s, four decades before its structure was worked out.  Often drugs were patented long before they knew how they worked (see aspirin).  The patents on hormones that the Reich [German] patent office accepted in the 1920s and 1930s established precedents that were used to consolidate the notion that purified biological products in general should become proprietary.

Drugs Past, Present and Future

Historically, it was common to exclude medicines from patentability ostensibly because it was deemed immoral, though it was often really to protect domestic infant industries.

The bulk of the book is a thorough historical grounding of the development of patented drugs.  The middle section then details the growth of Big Pharma, Small Biotech.  Following developments since Watson and Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA in 1953, Dutfiled leads us through the intertwining workings of genomics and money.

In showing the business of biotechnology, we see that the biotechnology revolution is rooted in the recombinant DNA  invention by Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer.  The technique, which enables foreign DNA to be inserted into a genome and passed along subsequent cell divisions was patented by Stanford, bringing in over $200 million in licensing royalties between 1975 and 1997, when the patent expired.

This second edition also looks into the future, addressing new areas such as systems biology, stem cell research, and synthetic biology.  As the patent system has been modified to accommodate biotechnological inventions, it brought with it an opposition from those who felt that “patenting life” as they would call it, was wrong and immoral.

The book ends with the perennial question of “would we have got where we are today without patents?” Dutfield points out that it almost goes without saying both that the pharmaceutical industry is crucially important for human welfare since it produces cures (among other things), and that it is considered to be the most dependent of all industries on patents.

This should remind us of two things that a new institutionalist approach leads us to expect.  First, changes in property rights structures can never make winners out of everybody.  Second, the differences between the gains for some and the losses for others are bound to be great when the biggest right holders have, as they often do, such a firm grip on the regulatory system to the partial or total exclusion of other holders, users and those representing consumer interests.

We highly recommend you read this thought-provoking treatise on the pharmaceutical-patent collaborative.

About the Author

Graham Dutfield is Professor of International Governance at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom. He was formerly Herchel Smith Senior Research Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London. He was also Academic Director of the UNCTAD-ICTSD Capacity-building Project on Intellectual Property Rights and Development.

Intellectual Property Rights and the Life Science Industries: Past, Present and Future (2nd Edition)” by Graham Dutfield (428 pages; World Scientific Publishing Co.)  is available through Amazon.

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  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by priorsmart: At patentbaristas– “Book Review Monday: Intellectual Property Rights and the…” – http://u.nu/45pv3 #patent…

  2. There are other options to protecting drugs, such as adding compounds to hide the active ingredients, though reverse engineering is always available. Patents are a much cleaner system.

  3. […] Via Patent Baristas […]

  4. Thnks Stephen, for posting the review of this book. was searching for a good IP book. Once again Thanks

  5. […] is perspective on the pharmaceutical industry. The book ends with the perennial question of “would we have got […]