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Biotechnological Invention

Volume 301: debated on Wednesday 24 September 1997

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To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment her Department has made of the impact of commercial monopoly rights over natural DNA sequences. [15341]

Under current United Kingdom law (the Patents Act 1977) it is possible to obtain patent rights for DNA sequences but only where they are isolated from the body, only where such sequences simultaneously meet the three general conditions for patentability: they are new, they are inventive and they are capable of industrial application. Discoveries, for example that a particular sequence exists in nature, are not patentable. This legislation provides for exceptions to patent rights for the benefit of those who wish to carry out research relating to protected DNA sequences.Significant progress in genetic engineering and biotechnology in general has been made in the United Kingdom throughout the twenty years this legislation has been in place. No assessment has been made during that time to identify the precise impact on patent rights to such progress, and to disentangle their role in facilitating the recovery of the costs of research and development from that of other factors which influence decisions to invest in research and the marketing of biotechnoligical products.However, the current uncertainty which exists in this area of law in Europe at present has the potential to act as a deterrent to investment in this industry. This Directive could play an important role in harmonising and clarifying national laws.

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what steps the Government took to ensure that members of the public were informed of a consultation on the proposed EU Directive on the Legal Protection of Biotechnological Inventions. [16736]

Information concerning the Commission's proposal was circulated widely, including by use of the internet. As a result, over 150 organisations have made their views known to me or my Department and have taken part in a consultation exercise, including a major meeting of interested parties held in London in October. Organisations should include those representing environmental interests, health and patient groups, animal welfare, the professions, industry, trade unions and religious groups.

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment she has made of the impact of the proposed EU Directive on the Legal Protection of Biotechnological Inventions on (a) employment and (b) small biotech companies. [16751]

Since the European Commission's proposed Directive is substantially consistent with current United Kingdom legislation (The Patent Act 1977), no specific assessment has been made of the impact of the proposed Directive. The Patents Act has been in place throughout the development of the modern biotechnology industry in the United Kingdom, which already employs over 10,000 people, a figure forecast to rise to 14,000 over the next two years. A sound intellectual property regime is considered essential to financing support for small and medium biotechnology companies and to safeguard their contribution to improving the quality of life through developments in this technology.