UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The neurotechnology patent landscape in a time of neuroethics : 2016-2020 Rotenberg, Ari


Over the past decades, invasive and non-invasive neuromodulation approaches have emerged to manage neurologic and psychiatric conditions, along with powerful functional neuroimaging methods that provide insights to the physiologic bases for cognition and behavior. However, new capabilities realized by neurotechnology also introduce new concerns. Neurotechnology has proliferated into industries such as defense, advertising, and retail, evolving in ways that may impinge on the privacy of thought and create injustices in human performance. In these contexts, newfound access to the brain raises broad concerns for human rights. In this thesis, I examine 779 patents granted by the USPTO between 2016 and 2020 as a publicly accessible record of inventions early in commercial development to understand the characteristics of neurotechnology innovation and assess their ethical and social implications. By applying qualitative methods to existing patent infrastructure, I develop a perspective of an innovation landscape rooted strongly in healthcare. Neuromodulation is most prominent, with conditions affecting the injured or aging brain a substantial focus. Neurotechnology across other industries such as entertainment and finance raise concerns about consent and coercion. I further consider how these inventions may support or impede the mental protections proposed by neurorights advocates. With some concerns identified in past work and in this thesis, anticipating that more ethically fraught innovation may come down the commercial pipeline is a critical exercise. Such a practice is also fundamental to the anticipatory tenet of neuroethics. To this end, I conclude by welcoming patent experts into the neuroethics circle, and at the same time urge ongoing attention to the patent landscape as a means of informing outreach and ensuring long term societal benefits.

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