Patenting Of Medical Procedures A Risk To Patients, Says WMA

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The patenting of medical procedures poses serious risks to the effective practice of medicine by potentially limiting the availability of new procedures to patients, according to a new Statement issued by the World Medical Association.

The Statement declares that the patenting of medical procedures is unethical and contrary to the values of professionalism that should guide physicians' service to their patients and relations with their colleagues.

The WMA is encouraging its national medical association members to make every effort to protect physicians' incentives to advance medical knowledge and develop new medical procedures.

The Statement, which was adopted by the WMA's annual general assembly meeting in Tel Aviv at the weekend, makes a distinction between patenting medical devices, which it says is acceptable, and patenting medical procedures.

It says that as a result of medical process patents patients' access to necessary medical treatments could diminish because:

  • the cost of medical practice would be likely to increase through licensing fees;
  • some physicians capable of performing the patented procedure might not obtain licenses to perform it;
  • physicians may be deterred from undertaking procedures which they think might infringe patents;
  • physicians' obligations to teach skills to their colleagues might be undermined;
  • physicians might have to delay publishing new results;

Commenting on the new Statement, Dr Anders Milton, chairman of the WMA Council, said: ' Patenting of medical procedures is not good news for patients. Doctors have an obligation to improve their practice and procedures and to share that information with their colleagues for the benefit of patients. Patenting procedures would prevent that and would be unethical'.