Patenting and Exploiting Plant Derived Substances By Pharmaceutical Companies

Legal and Ethical issues surrounding the Ability of Pharmaceutical Companies to Patent and Exploit Plant-Derived Substances

Over the years, there have been questions on whether patenting naturally occurring substances is justified and how the numerous ethical and legal issues that arise from doing so can be negotiated. Until 1930, when the United States started granting plant patents, the patent law served two purposes the first one being securingproperty right of inventions to inventors and the second one being to encourage technological progress (Godden, 1991). These purposes came into clash when plant breeders obtained patents that helped them control profitable rights to some varieties of the plants they produced.  Under patent law, a person is recognized as a plant inventor if he/she was the first one to appreciate its distinctive qualities and also the first one to breed it asexually (Godden, 1991). Although such patents servethe purpose of encouraginginnovation by rewarding the breeders’ efforts, it can be argued that plants, even genetically modified ones, do not qualify to be categorized under products of invention.  Plants are a gift of nature and therefore someone claiming to have invented a plantis questionable.

Another major issue facing plant patenting is ownership. If a breeder leased a piece of land in which they creates a new breed of plant by modifying the old stock, it is difficult to determine who should be entitled to a patent. By issuing the patent to the landowner, it is unfair to the inventor who invested time and resources into creating the plant. On the other hand, if the patent wereto be issued to the inventor, it might be unfair to the landowner who not only provided the inventor with the medium to conduct their experiments but also provided the original stock.Additionally, issuing patents to individuals and companies for plants that accidentally grow in their land goes against the patenting law that requires the patent holder being the inventor (Godden, 1991).

The plant patent law is inadequate inprotecting the inventor since it only protects against plants pirating but does not allow the inventor to pursue anyone who copies their product (Barton, 1998). Although proving plant infringement may be challenging, the law should formulate ways of proving duplication. Unlike with other product’s patents, the plant patent law is inadequate in protecting inventors as the products owners who are entitled to enjoy the benefits of their innovation exclusively (Barton, 1998). This causes controversy in the patent system where patents are meant to help ensure that the inventor enjoys the work of their hard work. Plant patent law gives the inventor infringement rights, the right to exclude other people. Infringement in the case of plants is taken to mean propagating the original plant. If anyone is able to produce the plant using other means other than the original plant, they are free to do so (Barton, 1998). For this reason, it can be argued that plant patents are unfair and unreliable. Furthermore, one could import plants but the inventor would only be allowed to sue the original imitator and must also prove that the plant originated from the patented plant. This encourages impunity because one could import the patented plant from and sell the products without any consequences since the patent holder can only sue the plant grower and not the distributor.

The issue of patenting plants has raised numerous legal and ethical concerns. Offering patents to pharmaceutical companies for what is provided by nature might be seen as neither legal nor ethical. Plants are work of nature and thus should not be patented in order to allow everyone who wishes to exploit them to have free access. Companies that have plant patents cannot single handedly exploit the uses of those plants fully. What’s more they tend to sell those plant’s substances at premium prices making it hard for other interested parties to explore the plant’s uses.

0ne way in which a company might provide compensation besides direct/individual payments

Indirect compensation. This refers to non-monetary reimbursements offered to employees in exchange for their services (Ahmed & Ahmed, 2014). These non- monetary benefitsmay include flexible working schedules, retirement programs, health insurance, subsidized housing, and paid leave among others.



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