Mining the Common Heritage of Our DNA: Lessons Learned From Grotius and Pardo

By: Jasper A. Bovenberg

The Human Genome Project generated oceans of DNA sequence data and spurred a multinational race to grab the bounties of these oceans. In response to these DNA property grabs, UNESCO, drawing upon international law precedents addressing analogous grabs in the past, declared the Human Genome the heritage of humanity. The UNESCO Declaration provided, first, that the heritage shall not, in its natural state, give rise to financial gains and, second, that countries establish an international framework to make the benefits from genome research available to all. This iBrief will first examine Grotius’s Mare Liberum to determine whether international law precedent indeed bars the private appropriation of a common heritage. Second, the iBrief will revisit the framework developed by Pardo for the exploitation of the mineral resources of the ocean floor and analyze whether it could serve as a model for an international framework for sharing the benefits of current genome research.

Cite: 2006 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 0008

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