Ethical, legal and economic framework issues concerning human samples, genetic data and bioresources are rapidly evolving. In most cases, international standards have not been defined. National legislations on the use and exploitation of human sample collections differ widely. Legislations relating to intellectual property rights, access to database information for public or private bodies, of national or foreign origin, are similarly diverse. Importation and exportation rules, concerning in particular data protection, biosafety and protection of individual rights, have not always been defined. This article makes a short assessment of the legal, ethical and economic framework in selected EC countries (Germany, France and UK), and compares them with the conditions in the USA. On the basis of the information collected, it is obvious that the use of human cells, tissues and organs in medical research has to be considered as a global, worldwide question. Such use has profound ethical, cultural and economic consequences not only in the country of origin, but also globally. Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies conducting research with human samples are facing different framework conditions in the area of data protection, policy measures, economic support, exportation, etc., that already influence trade activities and investments of such firms at the international level. Over the 3 last years, a trend towards harmonization can be recognized: the World Health Organization has recognized the problems of postgenomic medical research as a priority. The OECD has created a taskforce on centers for biological resources. Biobanks are a common theme of the French and the German National Ethic Councils. A lack of international harmonization and consistency might not only present a challenge to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, but can also endanger the goals the laws and regulations seek to achieve.