Could Open Source Make GMOs More Palatable?
from the it-worked-before dept
As a recent DailyDirt noted, opinions on the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are sharply divided. But that heated argument tends to obscure another problem that Techdirt has often written about in other fields: the use of patent monopolies to exert control, in this case over the food chain. By inserting DNA sequences into plants and animals and obtaining patents, the biotech industry is granted surprisingly wide-ranging powers over how its products are used, as the Bowman case made clear. That’s potentially problematic when those products are the foods that keep us alive.
But we have been here before in the world of software, where companies had broad control over how people could use applications. The solution was free software — code licensed in such a way that it granted users permission to do practically anything they wanted with it. So why not try something similar for GMOs? asks this article in Slate:
Like open-source software, open-source food genetics would advance biological research in this country, and our universities would soon become hothouses of innovation. Intellectual production without intellectual property would thrive, as scientists gained access to DNA code in all its infinite variety, along with the freedom to create derivative work and redistribute findings.
The column points out that a licensing system for plants already exists:
Open-source agriculture joined the patent left movement [inspired by Richard Stallman and his copyleft approach] when Cambia Technologies, an Australian biotech company that researches and develops GMOs, offered a licensing agreement called BIOS, which allows for the free use of a technology called “transbacter.” Transbacter can be deployed to alter plant genetics, and its aim is not one specific modification for one specific corporate interest but to enable a slew of innovations.
Utlimately, though, the article’s author Frederick Kaufman foresees the need for a more radical solution:
BIOS, like all the other open-source initiatives, is far from perfect, as it creates the paradox of endlessly replicating armies of anti-licensing licenses. The way out of the logical mire — and the way to marshal agri-tech to the cause of climate change — is an explicit exception in the licensing law, an intellectual property loophole for food.
The carrot, so to speak, would be that open-source GMOs would allow the creation of raw materials and foodstuffs without today’s problems of ownership and control, and that might finally make them more palatable to the many people and countries worried about those issues.