A major philosophical issue that many people have with biotechnology is patents on genes or whole organisms. It seems obvious that a plant, animal, or even bacterium is very different than a new piece of exercise equipment or anything else that might get patented. Should a breeder or geneticist be allowed to profit from his or her work? When thinking about complex subjects like this, it can help to get a little perspective by looking at the history of the subject.
One resource that I often refer back to is a 3 part series on plant patents by Clark Wolf, professor of philosophy at Iowa State University: Plants, Patents, Property, and Pirates. He also has an article on gene patents. As a bioethicist, Clark provides good insight into the issue of patenting life. In addition to these, all of the Bioethics in Brief articles are quite interesting.
- Part I: Luther Burbank versus Thomas Jefferson
- Part II: Theft by Patent?
- Part III: Piracy or Technology Transfer?
- Patents on Breast Cancer Genes: BRCA-1 and BRCA-2
Another great resource (and one that’s a little more recent) is by Joe Miller, professor of law at Lewis and Clark Law School. His expertise lies in intellectual property, and that’s what his three part series, hosted at Cooking Up a Story, focuses on.
- Patent Law: How Patents Grew Over Time To Include Living Organisms
- Patent Law: How Patents Grew Over Time To Include Living Organisms – 2
- Patent Law: How Patents Grew Over Time To Include Living Organisms – 3
Do you know of any useful resources for understanding patents on organisms or genes or that question those patents? Share them in the comments.
Thanks to @hyperlocavore for posting about Joe Miller’s articles.