Who Owns Science? The Manchester Manifesto (Briefing Note)




The Institute for Science Ethics and Innovation (iSEI) was officially launched in July 2008. A meeting held in conjunction with the Brooks World Poverty Institute took place alongside the launch. This interdisciplinary expert meeting considered the topic ‘Who Owns Science?’ through discussion around the questions of:

  • What is science for? What should science be for?
  • What obligations does science have?
  • How should these obligations be fulfilled?
  • What are the effects of the current model of innovation and commercialisation of science?
  • What are the goals of managing science and innovation?
  • What is intellectual property law supposed to do?
  • Does the present model of intellectual property fulfil these supposed aims?
  • What should be done, and what can be done, to address the problems identified?

With the particular aim of starting to formulate a ‘Manchester Manifesto’ – a consensus statement “on the issues, the problems and dangers, the opportunities and hopefully also some of the solutions which will enable science and innovation to flourish in ways compatible with human progress… and global justice.”[1]

This was followed by a second meeting in January 2009 and subsequent drafting and circulation of the Manifesto text, which was finalised and published in November 2009, with fifty signatories from the ‘Manifesto Group’.


The following statements appear in the introduction to the Manifesto and summarise the work and thinking of the Manifesto Group:

The initial meetings of the Manchester Manifesto Group in 2008-2009 established that the current method of managing innovation (and perhaps in particular IP in its present form), whilst deeply embedded in current practice and hence of practical importance, also has significant drawbacks in terms of its effects on science and economic efficiency, and raises ethical issues because of its (often adverse) effects on people and populations.

The Manchester Manifesto Group considered the core goals of science and identified various issues and problems with the current system of ownership and management of science and innovation, highlighting elements that hinder or obstruct achievement of these goals. Reflecting on these problems, we were able to articulate some broad principles and policy considerations to guide any investigation or evaluation of alternative systems of innovation. Finally, we outlined some questions that must be addressed if we are to move towards solutions to the problems identified by the group. We call for further research in these areas as a matter of great importance, in order to answer the question not only of ‘Who Owns Science?’ but of who ought to own science and how the goals of science can best be fulfilled.

Consideration was given to all aspects of the innovation process, including “scientific discovery, development, application and distribution; and the interactions between each aspect” and to the way in which this process is managed, with emphasis on its implications for access to science and innovation.

The Manifesto covers:

  • Goals

(Science and the public good; innovation and the public good; reciprocal responsibilities of science and society)

  • Issues/Problems in the Current Management of Innovation

(Access to benefits of research; effect on innovation; scientific progress)

  • Broader Issues
  • Global Dynamics
  • Principles
  • Policy Considerations

(Alternative systems; assessing models of innovation; principles and progress in the global context)

And concludes that:

It is clear that the dominant existing model of innovation, while serving some necessary purposes for the current operation of innovation, also impedes achievement of core scientific goals in a number of ways. In many cases it restricts access to scientific knowledge and products, thereby limiting the public benefits of science; it can restrict the flow of information, thereby inhibiting the progress of science; and it many hinder innovation through the costly and complicated nature of the system. Limited improvements may be achieved through modification of the current IP system, but consideration of alternative models is urgently required.

Marking the launch of the Manifesto, a comment piece ‘How science is shackled by intellectual property” was produced for The Guardian[3]. Criticisms of the Manifesto picked up on the content of this article as well as the main text, particularly the statement that “IP rights have the tendency to stifle access to knowledge and the free exchange of ideas that is essential to science. So, far from stimulating innovation and the dissemination of the benefits of science, IP all too often hampers scientific progress and restricts access to its products.”


Substantial interest was attracted by the launch of the Manchester Manifesto – feedback ranging from broadly supportive to hostile. The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) was particularly critical[4] – referring to its views on patents as “ill-informed and misleading”, with particular reference to the views that:

  • IP rights can hinder access to knowledge and the free exchange of ideas.
  • Patents can prevent products coming to market.
  • Patents can obstruct university research.
  • Human genes are being patented.
  • IP blocks access to medicines.

All these points were readily rebutted in a response statement issued on behalf of the Manifesto Group[5] (copies of this and the Manifesto have been provided).

CIPA subsequently co-organised with iSEI, the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) and the Royal Society, a Policy Lab – ‘Who Owns Science? Intellectual Property and the Public Interest’ – held in May 2010. On the panel, alongside John Sulston, were: John Alty, Chief Executive of UKIPO; Adam Heathfield ,Director of Science Policy Europe, Pfizer; and Charles Leadbeater, author of We-Think: The Power of Mass Creativity. The debate was very well received, and there are plans for a follow-up event to be organised by iSEI and the Royal Society.


Other relevant work undertaken by members of the Manifesto Group has included:

  • John Sulston and Sarah Chan discussed the way that IP affects innovation and access to medicine at a meeting of the Challenging Orthodoxies Society.
  • Catherine Rhodes participated in an after-dinner debate on Intellectual Property Law and Academic Freedom, hosted by The Intellectual Property Lawyers Organisation at the Inner Temple in June 2010.
  • Sarah Chan and John Sulston wrote an editorial ‘Patents in synthetic biology may hinder future research and restrict access to innovation’ for the British Medical Journal, 2010: 340 c2984 .
  • Sarah Chan and John Sulston wrote a paper “Intellectual property rights are stifling innovation”, in Transforming Management, 18 August 2009.
  • Catherine Rhodes gave a keynote lecture on the Manchester Manifesto at New York Law School’s Innovate/Activate Conference in September 2010.

The work of the Manchester Manifesto Group is ongoing – we welcome contributions from all quarters.

[1]Who Owns Science? A Draft Statement of the Problem, available through www.isei.manchester.ac.uk/research/resources/.

[2] Available at: http://www.isei.manchester.ac.uk/TheManchesterManifesto.pdf.

[3] John Sulston, John Harris, Sarah Chan, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/nov/26/science-shackles-intellectual-property, 26 November 2009

[4] CIPA, ‘Patent profession welcomes Manchester Manifesto on science but slams “misleading” comments on IP’, http://www.cipa.org.uk/pages/press/article?D5C2CBED-894B-488B-ACD2-07B01E204A06, 27 November 2009.

[5] http://www.isei.manchester.ac.uk/themanchestermanifesto/responses/.



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