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Conceptualizing the Commons: Genetic Resource Management, Property Claims, and Global Innovation Ethics

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This paper analyses if and how genetic resources can be conceptualized as part of the knowledge commons. By drawing on the legal and philosophical discussion of ownership claims—including intellectual property—on plant genetic information, it is argued that the tension between local or national sovereignty and a global commons character is grounded in new conceptual challenges of regulating access to genetic knowledge. Two considerations that have not been sufficiently taken into account are discussed. First, genetic information must be viewed as a special type of dual resource, which comprises informational and material aspects. Dual resources demand a reconsideration of conventional types of property to assess whether the rights and duties that they entail cope with ethically sensitive areas such as drug development and crop improvement. Second, the discourse on the knowledge commons can be usefully complemented by a re-interpreted concept of a "common heritage," adequately understood less as a property regime, and more as providing a normative vision of global genetic resource management. This includes conceiving of new governance structures or institutions that can address imbalances of power in bio-technological innovation politics.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2012

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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