skip to content

Centre for Law, Medicine and Life Sciences

Faculty of Law



A chapter co-authored by Dr Kathy Liddell (LML Director) and Dr Simon Ravenscroft has been published in Thomas C. Berg, Roman Cholij, and Simon Ravenscroft (eds.) Patents on Life: Religious, Moral, and Social Justice Aspects of Biotechnology and Intellectual Property (Cambridge University Press, 2019).

Patents on Life brings together a unique collection of legal, religious, ethical, and political perspectives to bear on debates concerning biotechnology patents, or 'patents on life'. The ever-increasing importance of biotechnologies has generated continual questions about how intellectual property law should treat such technologies, especially those raising ethical or social-justice concerns. Even after many years and court decisions, important contested issues remain concerning ownership of and rewards from biotechnology - from human genetic material to genetically engineered plants – and regarding the scope of moral or social-justice limitations on patents or licensing practices. The volume explores a range of related issues, including questions concerning morality and patentability, biotechnology and human dignity, and what constitute fair rewards from genetic resources. It features high-level international, interfaith, and cross-disciplinary contributions from experts in law, religion, and ethics, including academics and practitioners, placing religious and secular perspectives into dialogue to examine the full implications of patenting life.

Dr Liddell and Dr Ravenscroft co-authored Chapter 2: ‘Morality, Religion, and Patents’. This chapter advances the argument that religious and ethical reasoning have a role to play in policy debates about patent law, and also in some patent law cases. Given that the interpretation and application of the immorality exclusion has been controversial with lawyers, Liddell and Ravenscroft propose an alternative, potentially more fruitful approach to the exclusion, treating it as a ‘policy lever’. Such an approach clarifies the scope and purpose of the exclusion by contextualising it within the broader aims of patent law, to encourage socially beneficial inventions in a manner compatible with fair and just social organisation. Understood in this light, the exclusion offers judges and patent offices room for meaningful moral deliberation, which ought to include receiving non-standard evidence from moral philosophy or religious sources where relevant, yet without requiring them to define what is moral or immoral in an absolute or timeless way. This brings us back and echoes arguments at the beginning of the chapter about religious and ethical reasoning being incorporated in ways that are sensitive to the plurality of beliefs in liberal democratic societies.

Further information is available here.