By Dan McCauley
Human Resource Managers put into place many different ethical rules and guidelines. From time to time, people go outside of these set rules and guidelines to make money. There are multiple cases where intellectual property has been acquired or copied unethically and illegally. Some of these cases are in the court systems still and others are done deals. This topic is hard to decipher which are ethical and which are not. I will give a few examples with the facts and divulge the outcomes in the end. See which ones you think are obtained unethically.
Intellectual property is an item or idea that gives you a distinct competitive advantage in the market. Copyrights or patents are ways to protect these ideas. They are filed with the government to legally protect you from someone using or stealing this property. For example, if you were to use a part of a copyrighted song for some presentation it is legal and ethical. Now if you were to download the whole song in its entirety for personal use it would be illegal. That is just an elementary description of what it is.
Nestle, the worlds biggest food company, has produced a machine that takes a capsule to simplify making an espresso. They call this machine the Nespresso machine and they produce many different flavored capsules to use for their machine. Nestle had obtained a patent for this machine. Another company comes in and starts to produce capsules that work for this machine (News, 2012). Ethically, is this something you are able to do as a company? Is this something that is legal to do as a company? Is it both or one of the two?
Apple revolutionized the smart phone with the invention of the iphone as well as other industries with the ipod and ipad. They created the swipe technology and how you zoom in and out. They hold dozens of patents regarding these different systems to operate a touch screen. Now, Samsung has used some of these technologies in their phones and tablet devices. This case is currently in the court system for patent infringement (Nation, 2013) They only use parts of the technology in their products which they obtained from research. The way it works is almost identical. Is this ethical on the part of Samsung? Should this be legal?
Myriad Genetics Inc. has a patent on BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are commonly known as the breast cancer genes. Currently they are the only ones who are able to research and experiment with these genes. They have handed out many “stop notices” to others who are researching and experimenting with them. They are creating over half a billion dollars in revenue every year from this research (Darnovsky, 2013). Is something this important to humanity as a whole ethically something that you can patent? Should they legally be able to patent something like that?
Case #1 Breakdown
The Nestle case flirts with the boundaries of unethical behavior. I personally wouldn’t recommend it because of the risk of litigation. The company went ahead and did produce the capsules for the Nespresso machine. They did go to a court case and it was deemed that they were legally able to do this. According to the court ruling, ‘‘since the buyer acquires the right to use the machine, there is no patent violation when he uses capsules of other producers'' (News, 2012). Therefore it was ethical and legal to produce this product for the fraction of the cost that Nestle does. It is something you would have to look closely into before proceeding though.
Case #2 Breakdown
In the Apple case it seems to be ethical and legal because it is part of the whole. In this situation the individual parts are actually complete ideas and pieces of technology. Therefore, they are each individually patented and are stolen intellectual property. The case is still in the court of appeals but the initial ruling was patent infringement. Currently Samsung has to pay Apple roughly 599 Million dollars (Nation, 2013) Apple is pursuing a stop on Samsung products being made with this technology. Even though it seems to be borderline ethical and legal it turns out that this is stolen intellectual property.
Case #3 Breakdown
The genome patent case has many things that are in the gray area. In theory it seems that you would be able to patent something like this. Ethically, it seems that anyone should have access to cells that they could produce to experiment on and research. Right now it is technically illegal and unethical to research and test these genomes. The only reason I say it is unethical is because it is illegal. “Several international organizations have taken up these questions, declaring the human genome part of the "commons" -- akin to the moon and the air we breathe. The Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, ratified by the U.N. General Assembly in 1998, states that the human genome "is the heritage of humanity" and "in its natural state shall not give rise to financial gains." In 1999, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe declared that "neither plant-, animal- nor human-derived genes, cells, tissue or organs can be considered as inventions, nor be subject to monopolies granted by patents." The World Medical Assn., an umbrella for 84 national medical associations, states that "human genes must be seen as mankind's common heritage"” (Darnovsky, 2013). This case is in the court systems right now.
There are many different ethical issues you must decipher if you are a human resources manager dealing with intellectual property. Some of them are clear cut while others are much more difficult. Hopefully if you come across something that seems to be ethical and legal make sure you do your research because there are many things that seem ethical and legal but are sometimes neither.
Genetics,Marcy Darnovsky, Karuna Jaggar, Marcy Darnovsky is executive director of the Center for, & Society. (2013, April 12). Who should own DNA? all of us. Los Angeles Times, pp. 17.
News, B. (2012, August 17). Nestlé loses bid to block rival coffee capsules. The New York Times, pp. 7.
The Nation. (2013, March 4). Samsung's $1-billion payment to apple cut by $450M. The Nation (Thailand)