Biological Diversity in the Patent System
Biological diversity in the patent system is an enduring focus of controversy but empirical analysis of the presence of biodiversity in the patent system has been limited. To address this problem we text mined 11 million patent documents for 6 million Latin species names from the Global Names Index (GNI) established by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and Encyclopedia of Life (EOL). We identified 76,274 full Latin species names from 23,882 genera in 767,955 patent documents. 25,595 species appeared in the claims section of 136,880 patent documents. This reveals that human innovative activity involving biodiversity in the patent system focuses on approximately 4% of taxonomically described species and between 0.8–1% of predicted global species. In this article we identify the major features of the patent landscape for biological diversity by focusing on key areas including pharmaceuticals, neglected diseases, traditional medicines, genetic engineering, foods, biocides, marine genetic resources and Antarctica. We conclude that the narrow focus of human innovative activity and ownership of genetic resources is unlikely to be in the long term interest of humanity. We argue that a broader spectrum of biodiversity needs to be opened up to research and development based on the principles of equitable benefit-sharing, respect for the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity, human rights and ethics. Finally, we argue that alternative models of innovation, such as open source and commons models, are required to open up biodiversity for research that addresses actual and neglected areas of human need. The research aims to inform the implementation of the 2010 Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization and international debates directed to the governance of genetic resources. Our research also aims to inform debates under the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore at the World Intellectual Property Organization.