Article Title

Bioprospect Theory


James Ming Chen


Conventional wisdom treats biodiversity and biotechnology as rivalrous values. The global south is home to most of earth's vanishing species, while the global north holds the capital and technology needed to develop this natural wealth. The south argues that intellectual property laws enable pharmaceutical companies and seed breeders in the industrialized north to commit biopiracy. By contrast, the United States has characterized calls for profit-sharing as a threat to the global life sciences industry. Both sides magnify the dispute, on the apparent consensus that commercial exploitation of genetic resources holds the key to biodiversity conservation.

Both sides of this debate misunderstand the relationship between biodiversity and biotechnology. Both sides have overstated the significance of bioprospecting. It is misleading to frame the issue as whether intellectual property in the abstract can coexist with the international legal framework for preserving biodiversity. As a matter of legal gymnastics, any lawyer can reconfigure intellectual property to embrace all of the intangible assets at stake, including raw genetic resources, advanced agricultural and pharmaceutical research, and ethnobiological knowledge.