Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I must remember to take more holidays. Everything truly interesting seems to happen when I'm far from my computer. Of course, the ACLU's suit against Myriad is the big news, with proponents of gene patenting scrambling to find fault, or predicting armageddon as the result of Judge Sweet's well-crafted decision. Essentially, the judge held, as I have argued here and in my book, that the patents granted on gene sequences cover products of nature, which are otherwise not eligible for patent protection. He saw past the cute, lawyerly tricks that have been used to try to argue that "isolation and purification" of a gene result in something, somehow unique, and he found as reason and logic dictate: nature made the patented sequences at issue in the case, not man, and the patents are invalid under Section 101. See also my post "It's the novelty."

Expect a long, hard slog as this case moves up to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, and then, obviously, to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, we may get a clue as to SCOTUS's leanings when they issue a decision in Bilski.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


...on holiday at the moment, and this keyboard is too odd to do a detailed post, but suffice it to say for the moment that I am stunned and thrilled that the District Court ruled against Myriad! Much more soon!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Commons Sense

One of my recurring frustrations in making my case against gene patents is the failure by some to grasp the argument I am trying to make regarding the nature of "the commons". Perhaps I have been unclear, or maybe the approach I am taking to property law and justice is too far afield from those more frequently made to be immediately understood. Yesterday, however, I gave a guest lecture in an ethics course for ICT students (software programmers, mostly), and gained a lot from the experience. These students not only grasped the argument, but embraced it, and helped to clarify a subtlety that I need to elaborate upon in defining the "commons by necessity" that I believe genes and other parts of the universe belong to.

Briefly, to summarize, I argue that the justice of property rights derives from the logical and practical ability of people to enclose a space, and the need for a rival to use violence to dispossess a possessor of the space. Thus, property rights in land and movables are grounded in these brute facts. There is no such grounding for intellectual property rights. Moreover, there are parts of the universe that cannot be justly owned, and IP claims over these "commons by necessity" are unjust. These are parts of the universe which cannot be held exclusively by anyone, as a matter of brute fact. Examples include: the laws of nature, radio spectra, and genes which are de facto unencloseable. My thanks to Stephan Kinsella who helped me to realize that this applies, actually, to all ideas, and thus makes all IP law a similar incursion on an unencloseable commons by necessity.

My thanks go to some of the students yesterday who pointed out a fine distinction in the realm of objects belonging to the commons by necessity (as opposed to the commons by choice, which includes encloseable spaces over which we make choices to maintain no private ownership). They pointed out that there are commons not just by logical necessity like radio spectra and laws of nature, but also those that might be called commons by practical necessity which includes sunlight. So one could, given enough time and technical capabilities, enclose the sun and harness its power monopolistically, but this is a very remote technical possibility.

Genes, I argue, are logically unencloseable, and thus clearly belong to the commons by necessity, and attempts to give monopolistic control over them are per se unethical. If there's only one point I hope readers take away from my book, this is it.

**update: I just learned Who Owns You? is being translated into Portuguese! My first book came out in Japanese and Portuguese, so maybe Japan will soon follow suit. I'll keep you updated.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Brief update

The blog is in a holding pattern these days, waiting for courts to do their thing, and trying not to hold my breath. There are still some promising developments to report in the fight against gene patents, including the fact that soon, The Australian Senate inquiry into gene patents should conclude with some form of decision. My friend Luigi Palombi has been heavily involved in that fight, and my fingers are crossed. A good decision there will give us momentum here, and, of course, vice versa.

Also, Congressman Becerra's bill, The Genomic Research and Accessibility Act is once again (or still) on the horizon. I hear that they are looking for a Senate sponsor, and then hopefully, that effort will move forward. The timing is right, with Sebelius confronted with making a decision on the recommendations of the panel regarding limiting gene patents, the ACLU case under deliberation, and continued and growing public attention to the issue, something has to break soon.