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Intellectual property rights (IPR), and patents in particular, play a central role the commercialisation of new knowledge and techniques in the life sciences. In this paper I examine the shaping effect of patents and patenting on the innovation trajectories of three emerging biotechnologies; gene editing, induced pluripotent stem cells, and 3D bioprinting. All three are examples of ‘biomodifying technologies’, that is, tools and techniques that permit human intervention in, and modification of, fundamental biological processes, and each has been subject to varying degrees of patenting activity. The analysis draws on the sociology of valuation to position patents as both the outcome of particular practices of valuation and as entities that are themselves folded into other practices for calculating value in the life sciences economy. Drawing on qualitative interviews with a range of stakeholders including academic and clinical scientists, representatives of companies whose commercial activity incorporates one or more of these technologies, and actors involved in other ways with the governance of these technologies such as intellectual property experts and employees of university Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs), I show how ‘upstream’ market considerations inform strategic assessments of what is worth patenting and how patent claims should be drafted.


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