On Feb. 23, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Council adopted guidelines for the licensing of genetic inventions. The guidelines present principles and best practices for intellectual property licenses directed to facilitating access to genetic inventions and increasing the dissemination of genetic information derived from those inventions.

Policies informing the principles and best practices include a need to stimulate research through assurance of an adequate return on investment for biotechnology companies; a desire to encourage research by a broad range of scientists, especially those not involved in the conception of fundamental genetic inventions; and a hope that low-income countries will be able to utilize such inventions to further development of a health care system. The stated policies are well-intentioned, and each appears both reasonable and reachable when considered alone. It is the concurrent pursuit of all three that raises issues, which are discussed below.