Skip to content

DNA is information, not intellectual property

Intellectual property considerations in biology are one of the more worrying trends currently being negotiated in business and in the legal system. A court recently ruled that DNA is information, not intellectual property. Whether this holds as it moves through the court system in the US is unclear. But the impact of life patents (literally) is already being felt: “There are about 40,000 patents that currently protect some 20 percent of the human genome”. For more information on the impact of patents on breast cancer treatment, have a look at this article.

Patents are creating an entirely new economy (not sure of current figures, but IBM earned more than $1 billion from patents in 2007/2008). I see the value of some form of copyright protection and some sort of patent system. But as the system of protection morphs into a system of revenue, the metrics and the stakes change. On a side note, I don’t subscribe to the argument that patents encourage companies to invest in innovation. If that were true, then humanity would have seen very limited innovation prior to the arrival of the protection systems. Creative people – all of humanity for that matter – like to innovate, to create.


  1. Ruth Howard wrote:

    It really makes me think about Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s ‘The Little Prince’ and the accountant who “owned” the stars by counting them, but it’s not nearly as funny, because it’s just become true.

    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Permalink
  2. Blake Browning wrote:

    I think this is seemingly “innovative” but also fairly worrisome. The fact that courts are ruling that people’s individual genetic code is public property is like saying that someone’s organs are the property of the government. The opposing idea of patenting aspects of the human genome is scary in itself. This posting just proves that people will attempt to make money through any avenue available.

    Monday, April 12, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
  3. Ruth Howard wrote:

    Yes, yes Blake none of it seems satisfactory but perhaps they’re all barking up the wrong tree and we needn’t worry?

    A background discussion by Rupert Sheldrake and Bruce Lipton on the Human Genenome Project-about the vested intention to patent all of the genes in order to cash in on them by formulating pharmaceuticals…and the desperate attempts to continue regardless of the actual ‘data’.

    the follow on video is here (just the first part of this is relevant as the rest goes on to a larger discussion on biology and consciousness)

    Monday, April 12, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Permalink