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[From the March edition of Chemistry World] On 16 January, the Philip Morris Stiftung (‘Foundation’ in English), announced the four winners of its 25th annual research prize, of
Euro25,000 (£17,000) each. The winners were happy, as was Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich (LMU), one of Germany’s top universities. LMU immediately issued a press release touting the fact that one of its professors, biochemist Patrick Cramer, was a winner.

But not everyone was so pleased. Martina Pötschke-Langer, head of the Heidelberg-based German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), believes scientists should refuse awards like these which are connected to tobacco companies – in this case, Philip Morris International. ‘These scientists are lending their reputations to a company that sells tobacco products that kill people,’ she argues.

Read more about the story here.

How should chemists face ethical questions about funding? Tell us what you think

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The Indian government’s patent laws have been put on trial. Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis has accused the government of failing to comply with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules after it refused to grant the company a patent on its cancer drug Glivec.

India signed up to the WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) patent regime when it joined the WTO in 1995. As a developing country, it was granted a transition period of 10 years to bring its laws in line with Trips. Novartis now claims that the failure to acknowledge Glivec as an innovative drug means that India is operating outside these regulations. The Indian government rejects the claim, arguing that Glivec is an existing drug with only a minor alteration.

Read more here.

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Where do you stand on the debate?

Patents are a menace, according to Terence Kealey, clinical biochemist and vice-chancellor at the University of Buckingham, UK.

‘Inventors claim they need patents to incentivise their research but, today, it is the company that fails to innovate that goes bust,’ says Kealey.

But patents protect inventions by giving the owner of the patent the right to stop anyone from making or using the invention without the owner’s permission, says Barry Treves, president of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, UK.

‘In today’s liberal and free market economies it’s not just industrialists and governments who recognise the importance of a sound and enforceable patent system; increasingly the academic world is coming to realise that patents and the licence revenues that can flow from them are making an essential contribution to university research and to economic growth,’ says Treves.

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