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About This Event


The Medical Humanities and Health Studies seminar series presents Laura Foster, J.D., Ph.D., presenting " Re-inventing Hoodia: Patent Law and Benefit Sharing as Boundary Objects in Southern Africa" on Thursday, February 6 from 12 noon - 1pm in University Library, UL 1126.


In 1998 researchers with the South African Center for Scientific and Industrial Research (“CSIR”) isolated and patented certain chemical compositions within the Hoodia gordonii plant responsible for suppressing appetite. Hoodia gordonii suddenly emerged as a patented invention poised to be a blockbuster anti-obesity drug.

At the same time, the plant became a symbol of South Africa as nation of innovation, and Indigenous San peoples publically accused scientists of stealing their knowledge of the plant. Advancing a powerful global campaign, San peoples negotiated a benefit sharing agreement with CSIR giving them 6% of the potential revenue from future Hoodia sales. Hopes for Hoodia, however, ended in 2009 when Unilever terminated the project.

Drawing upon and contributing to feminist post-colonial science studies, this talk considers Hoodia gordonii as a boundary object that brings the divergent interests and stakes of various social actors together. Furthermore, it unpacks the black box of patent law to ask how both science and law work together to determine who is (or is not) considered an inventor and producer of science.

Presented by Medical Humanities and Health Studies Program and the Hall Center for Law and Health.  RSVP to

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