Can people’s claims to privacy illuminate their claims to property, and the differences between private and collective property? These are the questions which first motivated my work on intellectual property, and to which I hope to return before too long. Intellectual property seemed like a good way to explore the relationship between privacy and property, because it lies at the border between rights to privacy and to property ownership. In turn, the topic of intellectual property led me to ethical controversies over human gene patents.

Some people think that it is morally wrong to treat human genes as property, however inventive and useful the means to identify, sequence and clone the human genome. For others, the idea that patents in human genes threaten human dignity or human freedom is obviously mistaken, and a reflection of confusion about the legal rights created by a patent, or a misunderstanding of the scientific differences between cloned and natural genes. Thanks to a Fellowship at the Programme in Ethics and the Professions, at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, I was able to spend a year reading enough legal and scientific materials to be able to publish an article on this controversy in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Philosophy, Science and Law. A substantially revised version of this paper has just come out in Intellectual Property and Theories of Justice (Palgrave, 2008).

In May, 2009 I organised a conference, Philosophy and Intellectual Property, which was held at the Institute of Philosophy, London University. The website provides information about the participants, and copies of some of the papers. Cambridge University Press will publish a collection of essays, which I am editing, based in part on this conference.  The collection is called New Frontiers in the Philosophy of Intellectual Property and will be published in 2011.

Go to Publications on Intellectual Property