Growing Focus on Biological Prospecting

Biological prospecting is taking place in the Antarctic, and some Antarctic life forms have already been 'protected' with patents. The US Patent Office database contains more than 300 references to Antarctica and 92 applications for patents that refer to Antarctica, while a similar survey of European Patent Office records contains at least 62 patents that rely on Antarctic biodiversity. The question of whether companies should be able to profit from species unique to this region is complicated. In principle, provided there was a proper regulatory regime in place, one could say it could be treated like other activities. As Antarctica is set aside under the environment protocol to the Antarctic Treaty as a protected area dedicated to open science and environmental protection, allowing a free for all on bioprospecting does not appear consistent with those values. There seems little doubt that allowing a commercial bioprospecting to develop without a regulatory framework will tend to undermine one of the most important aspects of the way the Treaty system has operated – sharing all scientific information freely.