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Report on patent policy and the right to science and culture

4 August 2015
Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
To the General Assembly at its 70th session, October 2015


For her 2015 reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur focuses on the impact of intellectual property regimes on the enjoyment of right to science and culture.


In this report, the Special Rapporteur addresses the implications of patent policy for the human right to science and culture. She reaffirms the distinction between intellectual property rights and human rights, emphasizing that the right to the protection of the moral and material interests of authors does not necessarily coincide with the prevailing approach to intellectual property law. There is no human right to patent protection. The right to protection of moral and material interests cannot be used to defend patent laws that inadequately respect the right to participate in cultural life, to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, to scientific freedoms, the rights to food and health and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

When properly structured, patents may expand the options and well being of all people by making new possibilities available. Yet, they also give patent holders the power to deny access to others. This can limit or deny the public's right of participation in science and culture. The human rights perspective demands that patents do not go so far as to interfere with individuals' dignity and well being. Where patent rights and human rights are in conflict, human rights must prevail.

From the perspective of trade law, exclusions, exceptions and flexibilities under international intellectual property law, such as the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, remain optional. Yet from the perspective of human rights, they often need to be considered as obligations.


To study the impact of intellectual property regimes from a cultural rights perspective, the Special Rapporteur organised a public consultation in June 2014. She aimed to address the challenges regarding the implementation of the right of everyone to benefit from any scientific, literary or artistic production. She also set out to explore the concrete obstacles met by authors, creators and inventors to enjoy this right.

See the note verbale

Discussions during the public consultation and the written contributions received provided enough material for the Special Rapporteur to produce two thematic reports.

See the page dedicated to the first report on copyright policy.

Learn more about the impact of intellectual property regimes on the enjoyment of right to science and culture on the issue page.

Written contributions received

States Members of the United Nations

Persons and civil society organisations

Special Procedures
Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights
Recent thematic reports
Issues in Focus
Contact Information

Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Telephone: +41 22 917 96 30
Fax: +41 22 917 90 06

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