Project background:

Patents are a type of intellectual property right which give the rightsholder(s), the right to stop others using the patented technology for the duration of the patent – this is usually 20 years.

Patent rights – depending on how rightsholders use these – have the potential to significantly impact how patented technologies are used, by whom, and on what terms.

Currently, under the European patent system, the human body itself is not patentable. However, technologies that relate to the human body are patentable. For example:

Patents are available on technologies that treat the body such as medicines or elements of a vaccine

Patents are available on isolated elements of the body including, isolated human genes which are patentable in Europe

Patents are available on elements of technologies such as medical devices that can be integrated with the body.

Patents granted over such technologies can pose significant bioethical implications, as the grant and/or use of such patent rights, can potentially affect how we can treat, use and modify our human bodies. This can also have important consequences for human health and wellbeing. Yet, the current patent decision-making system generally does not directly engage with the bioethical implications posed by patents and how they are used over such technologies.


PatentsInHumans ultimate aims are twofold.

1Develop a comprehensive understanding of the potential bioethical issues posed by patent rights – and how these rights are used – over technologies related to the human body.

2 Reconceptualise how such bioethical issues related to patent grant and use over such technologies are viewed and incorporated within European decision-making systems.

PatentsInHumans aims to disrupt traditional conceptions within patent law, bioethics and innovation.

It challenges how we view the role of bioethics within patent decision-making and how the potential bioethical issues posed by patents are considered within the innovation cycle for such technologies.

It seeks to encourage greater interdisciplinary conversations and scrutiny around the role of bioethics in patent decision-making.

Research methods:

To achieve these aims, PatentsInHumans is designed around three main project phases.

Phase 1: Conceptual Phase
(0-18 months)
Detailed literature reviews will be undertaken to develop a comprehensive understanding of the bioethical issues currently posed by patents over technologies related to the human body. An institutional framework will be developed to examine the institutional influences on the European patent decision making structures.

Phase 2: Empirical Phase
(19-36 months)
Focus groups with technology users and semi-structured interviews with relevant stakeholders within the European patent decision-making system will be undertaken in order to examine the European patent decision-making structures, and to understand to what extent such bioethical issues are or could be further accounted for within current system for patent grant and licensing in Europe.

Phase 3: Analytical Phase
(37–60 months)
Findings across all project work-packages and phases will be synthesised and analysed in this phase in order to better understand the current bioethical issues posed by patents in this context and how such issues are currently considered within European patent decision-making. This phase will then examine how patent decision-making in Europe can be reconceptualised, if needed, to better engage with the bioethical issues posed by the grant and use of patent rights over technologies related to the human body.


A range of project outputs including peer reviewed articles, book chapters and conference presentations will be published during the PatentsInHumans project.

Details of all these outputs, as well as other dissemination and engagement activities will be available here.

Other news items, project events and blog posts relevant to the PatentsInHumans project will be available on the ‘News and Events’ page.