Genetic engineering and patents…

So I was listening to a radio report (i know, who listens to radio anymore?!?) on gene modification, and patent law.

What I thought before was… some company took a seed, stuck a new gene to make it disease resistant or whatever, and then they patented that process. But what actually appears to happen is the company can actually patent the plant itself.

So anyone using that seed needs to pay the company. The capitalist part of me says, sure, the company is helping the farmer with better disease resistant crops, the farmer gets more yield, so they should pay the company. But… the bit that is whacked is that … the company took the raw materials (the seed) from a ‘free’ pool of billions of years of evolution, and thousands of years of human-guided reproduction, changed one tiny bit of that seed, and now… owns the entire plant.

And further, discovery of a particular gene or sequence, means the discoverer can patent that gene or sequence. They own it. They didn’t create it, or contribute to its development in any way, they just happened to be the first to stumble across it. But they can patent that gene.

Isn’t that crazy? Like, completely, way out whacked? Its like 300 years ago, if I had discovered oxygen, I could patent it, and charge everyone for its use.

I’m not sure I understand all of the issues involved here, but something appears to be seriously wrong with patent law and genetic engineering, in the “I don’t care if its the law, thats just stupid” category.

Anybody got more info on this?

Genetic engineering and patents…

2 thoughts on “Genetic engineering and patents…

  1. Falafulu Fisi says:

    Greg, I agree that patent law is way outdated in its present form.

    Take for example, I stumbled across a patent on the internet, where this company patented the use of Bayesian belief network, neural network, including some other computational intelligence algorithms listed on that patent , in employment selection methods. This means that given a number of applicants to a job, any software that implements these algorithms in picking/selecting (automated) the most suitable candidate for the job must pay royalties or request permission of their use. I thought , WTF, these algorithms had pre-existed and the patent owner didn’t invent them. I think that the patent owner thought he invented its use in job selection and recruitment. But this is hardly an invention at all and this is similar to patenting the seed in your example. The seed was pre-existing, all they did was changing some gene sequence, that’s it.

    Patent that allows such claim to stand must be rejected in its entirety, because it hinders innovations.

  2. Exactly true. There are numerous patents that seem particularly pointless, but the GE ones seem the most insidious. We’re getting to a point in history where laws are not conforming to the law of common-sense. Thats gotta be a problem.

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