50 Years Of Scientific Discovery & Sharing In Antarctica May End Thanks To Patent Greed

from the patents-against-peace dept

For the past 50 years, 47 countries have been a part of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which was used to establish Antarctica as a peaceful science outpost where scientists from many nations could work together and share their discoveries. And it may now all be coming to an end. Why? Because (as Will Klein alerts us) all this discovery and sharing is going on mostly without patenting! This has greatly upset a bunch of companies who want to hoard any such discoveries and want to be able to patent "Antarctic organisms or molecules." Beyond the rather serious question of why either organisms or molecules can be patented, this is a microcosm of what's wrong with patents. Patents are supposed to be used to encourage research (promoting the progress, remember). And this treaty has done a great job promoting progress without patents. As the article notes, products already "derived from Antarctica include dietary supplements, anti-freeze proteins, anti-cancer drugs, enzymes and cosmetic creams." In other words, all of that happened mostly without patents. The only reason to break up this treaty, stop the sharing, and start allowing patents is to slow down the discovery, hoard the results and limit the progress to single companies who get a monopoly on that work.
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Filed Under: antartica, discovery, patents, science, sharing


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  1. identicon
    Lonnie E. Holder, 7 Feb 2009 @ 12:41pm

    Re: Re:

    Mike:

    You made one comment that other have made that I find particularly disquieting, because there is an assumption behind the comment that cannot be proven. Your comment is:

    Lonnie has sent in some evidence that shows patents help *divert* money to a particular industry, but that is not convincing to me. That just means that other aspects of the economy are unfairly hurt by such things.

    Regardless of what we wish, money will always be "diverted" somewhere, if it is possible for such diversion to occur.

    Let us consider a little scenario.

    People will always divide their income in various ways. Let us say that income is divided in a way that 70% of all income is for the necessities of life that are not protected by intellectual property (this assumption is just that; I make no representation that this is true or not).

    Now, let us say that 30% of all income will be spent on items that may or may not be protected by IP, but have the potential to be protected by IP.

    First, all these items have the potential to be protected by IP, so at the outset, the only "diversion" that can occur with this 30% of income is when a consumer decides that that he or she will purchase an item protected by IP or not protected by IP. The consumer may or may not (probably will not) consider whether IP is even a factor.

    Okay, let's say the consumer has a choice between six items, three of which are protected by IP and three of which are not protected by IP. If the six items are non-competing, the consumer will choose the items that either meets a need, or, if all needs have been met, they will choose an item that is a high want. Again, the consumer has selected a choice, not a need, and the "diversion" is only because the consumer makes it so.

    Okay, let us say that amongst the six items two of the items are competing. As an example only, let us say that the consumer has a choice between an item that is $10 that has no related IP, and an items that is $11 that is protected by IP. Further, let us say that the $1 is because of the famous "monopoly price" (pardon me while I laugh; yes, the IP holder has a monopoly on widget B, but widget A has been available for 30 years and offers a solution that is perfectly usable, say standard plastic wrap versus a new "cling wrap).

    When a consumer elects to spend a dollar more for the item protected by IP, is that a diversion or a market choice? The cheaper alternative was readily available and performed perfectly well. In fact, we know that there are opportunities to perform the same function for $5, and yet the consumer CHOSE to spend $11 on a patented item, deliberately spending at least $1 more than the consumer would have spent on the non-patented item.

    Now, my points:

    (1) If a consumer elects a patented item when there are numerous non-patented items available, how is that a "diversion"? The consumer had options, the consumer did not "divert" his money, he selected to spend his money.

    (2) If you remove patented items from the choice menu, which may or may not affect price, then are you not in fact making choices for the consumer, reducing the consumer's freedom of choice? Then, it seems to me that potentially eliminating options, you are restricting freedom of choice all over the place.

    Just something to wonder about.

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