US biotechnology industry won't be able to secure international patents on marine genetic resources without UNCLOS protections
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The deep seas are also opening up as a new frontier for genetic research. Research institutions, as well as the pharmaceutical, health care, cosmetics, and agricultural industries, are increasingly interested in the biodiversity associated with mineral-rich, deep sea, warm hydrothermal vents, and cold-seeps, which were only discovered as the Conference drew to a close. At least several hundred patents have now been issued by the United States, the European Union, Japan, and other developed countries for organisms, products, and processes originating in the deep. Many developing countries, however, object to the patentability of deep sea materials, on the basis that it runs afoul of the spirit of the "common heritage of mankind" and of the provisions of UNCLOS prohibiting using marine scientific research to appropriate marine resources or "any part" of the seabed.17 The Convention recognizes the fundamental truth that "the problems of ocean space are closely interrelated and must be addressed as a whole." Without consensus on the legal structure governing these genetic resources, patent holders cannot enjoy the protections necessary in the global marketplace to spur continued investment in genetic resources.
There is considerable debate currently on how UNCLOS can govern marine genetic resources and without consensus, patent holders cannot enjoy the protections necessary in the global marketplace to spur continued investment in genetic resources. The U.S., as a non-party to UNCLOS, lacks standings to contribute to or lead these debates and puts its own marine biotechnology industry at a disadvantage as a result.