The history of patenting life

posted in: Science | 8

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.

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.

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.

Follow Anastasia Bodnar:
Anastasia is Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes!