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Patents, university and the productivity sector

Interaction between researchers and industry is still in its infancy in Brazil

We can conceptualize intellectual ownership as being a package of scientific knowledge that, independently from the whole, shows characteristics which allow for commercial exploitation. In other words, in spite of the fact that all experiment/research generates scientific knowledge, not every new scientific fact can be considered to be intellectual property. On the other hand, not every intellectual property is in fact commercialized. A patent is the name which is given to the mechanism through which intellectual property is identified and eventually commercialized.

Nevertheless, patents result from scientific knowledge, and the university and the research institutions are the great generators of this knowledge. However, until a short time ago, only a few universities requested patents. Patents imply commercial interest, and traditionally, the academic community tends to direct its research to what it judges to be essential, the creation of scientific knowledge. The productive sector, on the other hand, has commercial exploitation as a fundamental point.

In developed countries, the productive sector also contributes towards the generation of scientific knowledge, and generally, is a lot more versatile and agile at obtaining patents, not only because in it lies its main goal, but as well through the possibility of concentrating efforts on a specific theme. However, this sector has restricted capacity to generate scientific knowledge and it attempts to establish relationships with the university for the joint development of intellectual property. This is a type of healthy exchange because it facilitates the application of knowledge and increases the inflow of resources for the university.

In developing countries, this interaction is still little understood. Brazil, for example, until 1996, didn’t recognize medical patents, which hindered the development of the capacity to exploit property in the national pharmaceutical sector. However, with the law of patents, the national and international industries have become concerned with scientific knowledge and the university has begun to discuss the question of the commercial exploitation of this knowledge. This interaction is still in its infancy and is not very nimble.The question took on special interest due to the debate about the drugs for Aids treatment and their commercial exploitation. People are dying in developing countries for the lack of medicine to fight the illness, as they are expensive and inaccessible. Brazil, claiming that the prices are incompatible with our economic reality, broke the patent and began to manufacture the medicines without paying commercial royalties to the owners of the original rights to the exploration of these drugs.

The health problems of the developing countries are, in a large part, characterized by a lack of basic infra-structure and not by patents for medicines. By arguing that they are essential medicines, the Brazilian government has entered into a gray zone, since all medicines are essential to whoever needs them. The risk contained within this attitude is that the multinationals reduce their investment in this area, due to political and commercial complications, slowing down the search for a cure to Aids.The strategy of commercially exploiting a part of scientific knowledge, without taking into account the part that generated by the society through the university, is a little controversial, however it is efficient.

Professor of Pharmacology at the Biomedical Sciences Institute of USP and of Unicamp and is the coordinator at the Cartesius Analytical Unit