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The paper explores the extent to which licensing of patents is being used or could be used to develop ‘ethical’ uses of new technologies. It focuses on recent moves by the Broad Institute to set out ethical restrictions on licenses for uses of its patented CRISPR technologies as a case study to examine such approaches. The paper questions the likelihood of other patent holders (often private companies) following suit and enacting such ‘ethical’ restrictions on use. In doing so, it examines issues including, potential conflicting interests of patent holders, and it raises questions in terms of how such licensing restrictions would be devised by patent holders.
Drawing on such recent moves, and as an alternative, the paper puts forward an argument for there to be a greater consideration of the role of patents within a broader regulatory package. It sets out a framework for the use of restrictions on licenses at a governmental level with stakeholder and interdisciplinary contributions shaping these agreements. The paper argues that this could be used to drive a more robust engagement with ethical issues arising from patents on biotechnologies and to help reframe the role of patents within a broader regulatory context.