Human Embryos, Patents and Global Trade: Assessing the Scope and Contents of the TRIPS Morality Exception

Research output: Working paper


Can a World Trade Organization (WTO) Member exclude an invention from patentability on the grounds of ordre public or morality whilst at the same time permitting the sale and distribution of the invention within its territory? This is a question raised by recent developments in Europe, where moral restrictions have been placed on the patentability of ‘uses of human embryos’, yet human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research, which involves the destruction of human embryos, is permitted and encouraged within numerous EU Member States, and indeed, also funded through the central EU science budget. This chapter assesses whether such an incoherent regulatory landscape would survive WTO scrutiny. The chapter argues that in general, if a WTO Member has not attempted to ban the commercial exploitation of a certain invention within its borders, measures prohibiting the patenting of that invention on moral grounds would likely be viewed as constituting an unjustified restriction on international trade. More concretely, it is suggested that the WTO Member would be found to be in violation of its obligation under the TRIPS Agreement to make patents available without ‘discrimination’ as to the field of technology.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationSSRN
PublisherUniversity of Edinburgh, School of Law, Working Papers
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2010

Publication series

NameEdinburgh Law School Working Papers


  • TRIPS Agreement
  • patent
  • morality
  • moral exception
  • human embryo
  • international trade
  • WTO


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