[VIEWPOINT]A world of technology diplomacy

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[VIEWPOINT]A world of technology diplomacy

It was on Oct. 24, when the Korean Patent Attorneys Association and the U.K. Patent Office were discussing ways of cooperating in the intellectual property field, that the ethical problem involving the ova donation by a member of Dr. Hwang Woo-suk’s research team, which was mentioned in the May 2004 edition of the British science magazine Nature, was raised. The discussion was concluded with an agreement on two points: That ethical issues can change with changing times, but that patents have an unchanging objectivity. With this conclusion in mind, both sides agreed to cooperate in protecting intellectual property rights in the bioscience field from a patent point of view.
Surrounding the intellectual property rights market, the world economy right now is entering into a battle of science technology and technology diplomacy. The United States monopolizes $45 billion out of a $100 billion technology trade market. South Korea pays back Japan $24.4 billion out of a $29.7 billion surplus from trade, which the country has earned with hard work, for its intellectual property rights.
Can we survive in this international economic war over intellectual property with our current way of thinking and system related to science technology? International stem cell researcher and No. 1 star scientist Dr. Hwang Woo-suk, who gets all the love of the people, can be an example of either a failure or success case of how we overcome this situation. Therefore, Dr. Hwang has to acknowledge the situation that the ongoing controversy should be overcome by all of us together.
First of all, we must realize that what the science technology people yearn for may not be “the goose that lays the golden egg.” In basic science, great research results do not lead straight to an economic boom. Even if we succeed in research development that exceeds the international standards after all sorts of hardships and trials, there are endless invisible barriers in turning it into a money-making business. Especially in the case of new medicine, animal tests and clinical tests have to be carried out for as long as 10 years. Furthermore, problems like safety and ethics need to be dealt with, not to mention that these must meet international standards. The more international the research achievement is, the more it has to be viewed from an international point of view and with an international mind.
Second, in the cutting edge research fields of science and technology, it is necessary to study the dynamic relationship between the research result and the international economy and politics in parallel with the scientific research itself. In other words, sophisticated diplomatic sense is needed in science and technology too. By having such a sense, we can prevent a controversy like this and succeed in marketing the result of the research internationally.
Around 30 percent of those who work in the research and development fields are specialists like research administrators, diplomatic specialists, business lawyers and intellectual property rights patent attorneys, who make up a strategic team. We now need an international cooperation strategy designed by a specialist strategic team separate from the great research results of Dr. Hwang, if we want to make into businesses in terms of national interest.
Third, our government must adjust to the national intellectual property economic system as soon as possible. Intellectual property nationalism is rising quickly among highly advanced, strong powers at the moment; the United States promotes the Unified International Patent Law, Japan is working to establish itself as a leading country in intellectual property rights, and China aims to develop the country through science education. As intellectual property produced by people’s brains will be the center of economic activities in the future, government policies, organizations and legal provisions related to intellectual property should be restructured accordingly so that they can promote intellectual property development.
Instead of counteracting the controversy over Dr. Hwang’s stem cell research as an issue only related to research ethics and achievements, we must take this as an opportunity to look for an alternative on a national level, so that we can move forward two steps after moving one step back. First of all, the Korean science technology world needs to earn the trust of the people with creative way of thinking, rather than for the sake of criticism.
The people need to encourage our science and technology world with a scientific way of thinking and patience rather than an emotional reaction. In the era of the intellectual property economy, the government must arm itself with competitiveness, so that it can promote research and development, and be able to protect our research and development overseas. Now is the time for all of us to prepare for the advent of an intellectual property economy, if we really care about Dr. Hwang Woo-suk and our national interest.

* The writer is the chairman of the Korea Patent Attorneys Association and former minister of science and technology. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Rhee Shang-hi

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