International Standards for Intellectual Property Protection of Neuroscience and Neurotechnology: Neuroethical Legal and Social (NELS) Considerations in Light of Globalization

  • May 2014
  • 7 Stan. J.L. Sci. & Pol'y 33
  • Article

With an increasingly globalized economy, the past 20 years have evidenced a trend towards global, uniform intellectual property standards through the advent of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS). New TRIPS practices and increased levels of IP protection have had a significant effect on developing nations’ access to biomedical science and technologies. Moreover, while these agreements may afford prima facie recognition of the importance of public health, and allow compulsory licensing of implements essential to the public health, developing nations often face – and have externally-imposed – economic pressures that mitigate or prevent using these venues to acquire and employ state-of-the-art bioscientific capability.

As neuroscientific research and neurotechnology enter the forefront of biomedical innovation, they will undoubtedly become subject to these same effects and considerations. Increased global IP protection allows a nation and its major industries the ability to control the use of, and access to, neurotechnology on the world stage. Current advancements in neurotechnology such as brain implants, novel psychotropic drugs, and brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) can be used to treat a host of neuropsychiatric disorders, improve cognitive function, and affect individual and group cognitions and behaviors. The capability to enhance medical care, affect human performance, alter the quality of life, and shape the human condition through the use (or deprived use) of neurotechnology generates questions and concerns related to international and corporate biopolitical relationships, and neuroethical obligations are spawned by the intersection of neuroscience, socio-culture, and law in the crucible of international justice. Guiding neuroethical principles that inform and/or contribute to policies regarding the use of neurotechnology and the level of control entities may wield over advancements that are intimately yoked to the scope and tenor of the human being, human condition and human predicament require NELS scrutiny, as policies within the USA and Europe will inevitably be reflected in the global community through treaties, agreements and laws, such as TRIPS. Our work focuses upon the ways that global IP rights and standards may become more prominent vehicles for applying neuroethical policies. We engage with ongoing efforts devoted to discerning the methods required to ensure neuroethically sound implementation of neurotechnology upon an ever more pluralized world stage in the future. 

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