Enclosing The Ocean Commons

from the insult-to-humanity dept

Cross posted from Open....

The oceans belong to everyone - well, more or less. That is, they form a classic commons. But of course, that fact doesn't stop people from claiming that they own stuff even here:

Molecules derived from marine resources and used for medical applications were worth over $1 billion in 2005, and heat-stable enzymes obtained at undersea vents were worth $150 million. Not surprisingly, the business community has responded by patenting genes derived from marine organisms; the authors were able to identify over 8,500 sequences derived from a total of 520 species in a US gene patent database.

This is a double insult to humanity. Genes are part of the DNA commons and "belong" to everyone or to no one, but certainly not to any one entity. Those genes were extracted from marine animals, which form part of another commons, the oceans' ecosystems, that also belong to everyone or to no one.

But instead of simply recognising those commons, and letting everyone benefit from them directly, the best the patent maximalists can come up with is a cartel, a.k.a. patent pool:

they also suggest that, in the case of marine materials, a patent pool organized within this framework might improve access to genetic information and distribute the risk and profits broadly among far more nations, rather than limiting it to the few countries that can afford high-throughput DNA sequencing.

The logic here seems to be that, of course we need patents, otherwise nobody will go to the trouble of sequencing all of these interesting organisms. What this overlooks is that the cost of sequencing genomes has come down from a billion dollars (for the first human genome) to a few thousand. Next year it will probably be under $1000, and the year after that a few hundred. In a decade, sequencing will cost almost nothing.

What this means is that, once more, intellectual monopolies are being given away needlessly - no quid pro quo is in fact necessary because practically anyone will be able to do this for very low cost. And, once again, it's you and me who lose out, as knowledge is sent to the intellectual equivalent of Davey Jones' Locker....


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2011 @ 1:35pm

    By definition, everything that we create already existed, as mankind has no ability to produce matter from thin air. By your logic, everything we have ever created is "of the commons", and as a result, none of it merits any protection.

     

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  2.  
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    OC, Mar 28th, 2011 @ 1:39pm

    quids?

    no quid pro quo? I thought it was all about quids.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2011 @ 1:44pm

    Re:

    So you're saying if I research something that already existed, I can stop everyone else from researching it?

     

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  4.  
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    Miff (profile), Mar 28th, 2011 @ 1:51pm

    So...

    If we can patent pre-existing natural organisms, does that mean that someone will actually have a credible lawsuit against God?

     

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  5.  
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    Krish (profile), Mar 28th, 2011 @ 1:53pm

    pro

    It's all about squid pro quo.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2011 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Re:

    Well, consider that research is to discover something that we did not already know. The point is only that since everything already exists (at least in basic forms) there is nothing that is "new". Since we already have all the letters and we know all the musical notes, there can be no new books or music because they all come from things that already existed in nature.

    All I am pointing out is the logic is sort of twisted.

     

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  7.  
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    pringerX (profile), Mar 28th, 2011 @ 2:10pm

    This is frustrating. Genes and 'discoverable' resources should not be patentable. A unique process for expressing an enzyme, or purifying it might be patentable, but patenting the 'information' contained within a gene sequence is ridiculous. If anything, it would be intellectual property- common IP, because the discoverer did not create anything new, or acquire the IP from its previous owner.

     

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  8.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Mar 28th, 2011 @ 2:25pm

    Re:

    Except in this case we aren't talking about mankind taking pieces from nature and putting them together in a new way, we are talking about mankind going to great lengths to see how pieces are put together by nature. I can't see how the latter deserves any sort of monopoly.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2011 @ 2:38pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Since we already have all the letters and we know all the musical notes, there can be no new books or music because they all come from things that already existed in nature.

    That's a bit of a stretch.

     

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  10.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Mar 28th, 2011 @ 2:45pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Well, consider that research is to discover something that we did not already know. The point is only that since everything already exists (at least in basic forms) there is nothing that is "new". Since we already have all the letters and we know all the musical notes, there can be no new books or music because they all come from things that already existed in nature.

    All I am pointing out is the logic is sort of twisted


    Kind of amusing that you seem to use the exact opposite logic in your comments on the appropriation art post... You are the one claiming that what Prince has done is not new, because it uses the work of others.

     

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  11.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Mar 28th, 2011 @ 2:46pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Your comparison is quite flawed, since letters and notes are themselves manmade, unlike DNA, and since the copyrights of creative works are entirely different from the patent rights of functional inventions, but to carry it on anyway:

    If an archaeologist finds a book or a musical score from a thousand years ago, he doesn't get the rights to it. And the DNA of marine life predates that by oh, I don't know, six orders of magnitude or so...

     

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  12.  
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    The eejit (profile), Mar 28th, 2011 @ 2:47pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Oh my GOD! You're right! Finally, someone seees sense! I may actually bow down at the altar of Eris, that life may continue unparadoxically!

     

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  13.  
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    DJ (profile), Mar 28th, 2011 @ 3:59pm

    Correct: "the oceans' ecosystems". In this case you are referencing ALL of the existing oceans and thus put the apostrophe to the right of the s.

    Incorrect: "Davy Jones' Locker". There's only ONE Davy Jones, and since it's his locker, the correct placement of the possessive would be: "Davy Jones's Locker".

    /soapbox

     

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  14.  
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    DJ (profile), Mar 28th, 2011 @ 4:02pm

    Re: quids?

    no no, SQUIDS. With an S.

     

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    locked-out, Mar 28th, 2011 @ 4:08pm

    astounding

    If ever an effective movement arises to expose the cantankerous state of patents today, surely it would start by publicity stunts around such asinine behavior and transparent corruption as this.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2011 @ 5:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    What would you expect from someone who is probably neither a scientist nor an artist.

     

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  17.  
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    abc gum, Mar 28th, 2011 @ 5:26pm

    I thought one was not allowed a patent upon nature.

     

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  18.  
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    Markus (profile), Mar 28th, 2011 @ 6:52pm

    Cheap Gene Sequencing

    If the logic is that one should be able to patent genes because finding them is expensive, and now sequencing is becoming cheaper, it starts to sound like companies looking for genes to patent have every incentive to slow down the progress of the development of cheaper sequencing technology so as to maximize the strength of arguments for gene patents. That's one heck of a backwards incentive to stifle progress in order to preserve an IP interest. I wonder if cheaper gene sequencing would not have come along earlier had this incentive not existed...

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2011 @ 8:19pm

    Re: So...

    People could already sue Jesus for multiplying the fish I think.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2011 @ 9:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I don't see any contradiction here.

    Without the research, we would have nothing. In the Prince case, we already had something (art), and he added little or nothing to the concept.

    Finding, researching, and understanding how nature works, and then potentially using those discoveries to move to market isn't any different than discovering electricity or simple single plant medicines. That didn't stop those from being patent in their time.

    Sorry Mike, you are trying hard, but once again you fail (and show that you don't seem to understand the difference between two subjects). I am wondering is this explains some of your weird points of view.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2011 @ 9:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    since letters and notes are themselves manmade

    Sound is a natural phenomena, and the musical scale is basically just the mathematical explaination of naturally harmonious sounds.

    We didn't invent sound. It was already there.

     

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  22.  
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    abc gum, Mar 29th, 2011 @ 4:43am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "We didn't invent sound. It was already there."

    Yup, and you are not allowed a patent upon it either.

     

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  23.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Mar 29th, 2011 @ 6:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Exactly. Which is why none of those things can be owned in any way, shape or form. Complex things build out of those parts by humans, however, can be - but that's not what's happening with DNA here.

    I'm concerned that you think we are talking about brand new DNA being engineered - that's not what's happening. We are talking about the isolation of specific organic elements from existing living things.

     

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