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Von Hügel Institute

for Critical Catholic Inquiry

The VHI's 'Patents on Life' project looks at the ethical and religious issues surrounding the patenting of life forms, as well as broader themes in Intellectual Property law. Its first major event was held in September 2015, with a two-day international conference in Cambridge.

2015 Conference Report

The Master of St Edmund's College opens the Patents on Life conferenceThe VHI conference 'Patents on Life: Through the Lenses of Law, Religious Faith and Social Justice', co-hosted with the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law and Public Policy took place in Cambridge on 4-5 Sept. 2015, and was a great success. The event attracted a wide range of high-profile speakers from the worlds of law, religion and ethics, including Judge of the High Court, Mr Justice Arnold; The Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN in Geneva, H. E. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi; Christopher Rennie-Smith, formerly of the European Patent Office; Dr Michael Kock, Head of IP at leading agri-business Syngenta; and Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, Rt Rev John Sherrington, alongside numerous academics including, from the US, Paul Heald, Ruth Okediji and Joshua Sarnoff, and from Europe, Graham Dutfield, David Albert Jones and Ingrid Schneider, among many others (the full list can be seen here).

The event was opened on the Friday morning by the Master of St Edmund's College, The Hon Matthew Bullock, and closed on the Saturday evening by the Director of the Von Hügel Institute, Professor John Loughlin.

The conference was well attended and characterised by energetic discussion. The uniqueness of the event, particularly in orchestrating a conversation between patent law and theology, was noted by a number of speakers and delegates. At the close, there was a great deal of enthusiasm among participants to continue the discussion in a constructive way. We will be sharing more about that, as well as material from -- and online and print responses to -- the event itself, on the VHI website and on our Twitter feed over the coming weeks and months.

Click here to download the 'Patents on Life' conference brochure [PDF]

Immediate online responses to the conference

  • The Solo IP blog, by conference delegate and patent attorney Barbara Cookson
  • The IP Factor blog (a number of posts), run by one of our speakers, Dr Michael Factor, an Israeli patent attorney
  • The Mirror of Justice blog (again a number of posts), by Robert K. Vischer, Dean of the School of Law at the University of St Thomas
  • The blog of Christopher Rennie-Smith, another of our speakers and a former Chair of the Biotech Board of Appeal and Member of the Enlarged Board of Appeal at the European Patent Office
  • Photos are available on Twitter.

Conference outputs (academic, media etc.)

This list of publications issuing from the conference will be updated as and when material is published

References the conference at length:


See our resources page for background materials related to the themes of the conference.

Book Launch

Thursday 12 March 2020 saw the official book launch of ‘Patents on Life: Religious, Moral and Social Justice aspects of Biotechnology and Intellectual Property’, published by Cambridge University Press. The book, produced by three co-editors (Thomas C. Berg of the University of St Thomas, Dr Roman Cholij of the Von Hügel Institute, University of Cambridge and Dr Simon Ravenscroft also of the Von Hügel Institute), comprised papers by fifteen authors, including the co-editors, that cover ethical aspects of patent law rarely discussed.

The book launch was held in London at Kilburn & Strode LLP, a prominent firm of European and UK Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys. Lawyers, theologians and academics attended the evening’s presentations and discussions in person as well as virtually due the sudden explosion of the COVID-19 pandemic.



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