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Professional or market economy ? Patents, biological drugs and industry in early 20th-century Germany

Abstract : This paper analyzes the patenting activities of the Berlin pharmaceutical company Schering in the 1920s and 1930s when the firm was developing preparations of sex hormones in collaboration with the Kaiser‐Wilhelm Institute für Biochemie. Although in France and Germany, the law declared drugs not patentable, the massive use of process patents by German firms to circumvent this ban opposes the weakness of such practices in France. This case illustrates the creation of a patent milieu between academic researchers, industrial managers, and lawyers that contributed to normalize the intellectual property of drugs. More precisely the paper shows how the changing ways of investigating and producing the sex hormones, i.e. their molecularization, became a legal operator. The paper also highlights the deep influence questions of intellectual property have had on biological research. The 1930s saw a rapid expansion of research on metabolic pathways. Within bio‐industrial networks, these pathways were deemed essentials as they were (a) patentable and (b) examples of both biological and technological synthesis of drugs. Finally, the hormone cartel Schering and its main European competitors established in the 1940s reveals that drug patents had then become so important that the fear of a tragedy of the anti‐commons became a strong incentive in the formation of cartels grounded in patent pools.
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Submitted on : Monday, December 13, 2021 - 12:02:50 PM
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Jean-Paul Gaudillière. Professional or market economy ? Patents, biological drugs and industry in early 20th-century Germany. History and Technology, Taylor & Francis (Routledge), 2008, 24 (2), pp.107-133. ⟨10.1080/07341510701810922⟩. ⟨hal-03477074⟩



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