University of Notre Dame

File(s) stored somewhere else

Please note: Linked content is NOT stored on University of Notre Dame and we can't guarantee its availability, quality, security or accept any liability.

Can Patents Prohibit Research? On the Social Epistemology of Patenting and Licensing in Science

journal contribution
posted on 2022-05-26, 00:00 authored by Justin B. Biddle
A topic of growing importance within philosophy of science is the epistemic implications of the organization of research. This paper identifies a promising approach to social epistemology—nonideal systems design—and uses it to examine one important aspect of the organization of research, namely the system of patenting and licensing and its role in structuring the production and dissemination of knowledge. The primary justification of patenting in science and technology is consequentialist in nature. Patenting should incentivize research and thereby promote the development of knowledge, which in turn facilitates social progress. Some have disputed this argument, maintaining that patenting actually inhibits knowledge production. In this paper, I make a stronger argument; in some areas of research in the US—in particular, research on GM seeds—patents and patent licenses can be, and are in fact being, used to prohibit some research. I discuss three potential solutions to this problem: voluntary agreements, eliminating patents, and a research exemption. I argue against eliminating patents, and I show that while voluntary agreements and a research exemption could be helpful, they do not sufficiently address the problems of access that are discussed here. More extensive changes in the organization of research are necessary.


Date Modified


Usage metrics

    Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study


    No categories selected



    Ref. manager