University of Sussex
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Intellectual property and the genetic dispositif of life: the changing role of intellectual property law in governing participation and knowledge in the bioeconomy

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posted on 2023-06-09, 01:23 authored by Eva Hilberg
This thesis analyses the problematic relation between intellectual property (IP) and genetic conceptions of life. The ‘gene patent’ has been controversial from its inception in the 1980s, and IP’s definition of genetic sequences continues to undergo surprising changes. Recent examples include the contested overturn of some forms of gene patents in the US Supreme Court Myriad judgement, and continuing international debates about access and benefit sharing arrangements in the newly established Nagoya Protocol. The Myriad case confronted an international neoliberal bioeconomy with new demands of patients, which increasingly define their understanding of health and well-being in molecular terms. This thesis argues that the issues surrounding the patenting of genetic sequences go beyond an already widely criticised ‘commodification’ of life, and points out that rather IP law is becoming a highly contested site in a wider problematization of the governing of life understood in molecular terms. Relying on an updated reading of Foucault’s concepts of governmentality and biopolitics, it argues that informational-genetic conceptions of life have opened up a new sphere of intensified biopolitics, based on a ‘genetic dispositif’ of knowledge and power. In its engagement with this dispositif, IP manages tensions between competing scientific knowledges about life, governs the participation of patients in medical research, and determines the rights of developing countries in an international bioeconomy. The analytical framework conceptualises these tensions as a confrontation with molecular biopower on three levels: in IP’s changing understanding of DNA, in IP’s relation to new ‘genetic’ subjects and medical research charities, and in challenges to IP’s exclusionary effects regarding the international sharing of benefits from research, and on demands for increased contributions to global health agendas. These challenges show how IP tactically contributes to the normalisation of knowledge, to the inclusion/exclusion of participation in the bioeconomy, and to the control of research agendas.


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University of Sussex

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