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Intellectual property, privatization of knowledge and the (vanished) university's autonomy

Caso, Roberto

The contradictions afflicting the relationship between the human right to science and intellectual property ought to be investigated with reference to one of the most important centers of production and dissemination of scientific knowledge: the university.
On the one hand, actions promoting open science inside the universities are increasing, on the other, privatization of knowledge in academic research is encouraged. Privatization of scientific knowledge growths along with the current research assessment system and intellectual property framework as well as with the pseudo-intellectual property regime, i.e., forms of exclusivity aimed at controlling data and infrastructures. This is particularly true in the European Union, as demonstrated, even during the pandemic era, by its firm intellectual property strategy for resilience and recovery.

This twofold approach in policies regulating the relationship between science and intellectual property represents a critical contradiction if it is believed that universities should play a relevant, autonomous and independent role from politics and market. In other words, there is precisely ambiguity if one keeps distinct the spheres of public and private, and of the non-profit sector and the commercial sector. On the contrary, if it the university is seen as instrumental to political and commercial interests, there is instead a typical convergence: the privatization of basic research therefore represents the physiology of the relationship between university and business, and the boundaries between public and private, i.e., between university and business, are inevitably blurred. Indeed, the latter vision, which corresponds to the dominant idea of academic capitalism, materializes concrete risks for democracy, multiplying inequalities, fueling conflicts (even geopolitical ones), and even hindering the technological innovation itself. Two examples give an idea of the risks produced by the dominant vision: scientific publications and university patents in the biomedical field.
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