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IP 9 - Biotechnology Print
Ever since Crick and Watson discovered deoxyribonucleic acid or ‘DNA’ in the 1950s, modern biotechnology (e.g. genetic engineering) has been emerging and its field of application continuously broadening. The technique is applied in research and development regarding agriculture, healthcare and – most recently – also in bioenergy. This involves genetic resources with human, animal, plant and microbiological origins.

The debates engendered by this technology and its applications are well known. From a legal perspective, they mainly encompass questions of liability for damages (especially in the case of involuntary dissemination); of allocation and breadth of intellectual property rights; of medical law (in particular with issues of prior informed consent); of competition and WTO law (process and production methods (PPMs), sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regulations, technical barriers to trade (TBT), etc.); of social security law (specifically in relation to discrimination); and of human rights law (e.g. right to privacy, right to human dignity, right to health). All of these aspects are intertwined and should constitute a well-balanced set of laws.

The regulation of biotechnology is however complicated and fragmented. It must deal with a number of factors rendering the establishment of legal rules seemingly more complex than for other subjects of law. The highly technical nature of the technology, the pace of its evolution, the pressing and diverging public opinions, the ethical concerns, the risks and the difficulties of assessing them, the fostering of research in the field, among others, are all elements to be taken into account when construing rules covering biotechnology.

Products and services based upon modern biotechnology techniques are goods traded not only nationally, but also internationally. The regulation of genetic engineering hence inherently affects international trade law; it cannot be confined to national legislation. However, as the subject is still emerging, pertinent rules are currently highly fragmented.

This project addresses the regulation of modern biotechnology in the fields of agriculture (plant genetic resources) and health care (human genome, stem-cell research and cloning), within the World Trade Organization, with a view to rendering the various and emerging components of international regulation of biotechnology more coherent and to developing appropriate framework conditions within WTO law.

Project Description in German

SNF - Swiss National Science Foundation The National Centres of Competence in Research are a research instrument of the Swiss National Science Foundation