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 @ 12:59pm

    Open-Minded & Other Things

    Mr. Slonecker:

    Thank you for your observations. I try to be open-minded, especially here, because there are many valid points being made. However, there are places where correlation is being stretched to causation, and there are places where a suggestion of smoke is turned into a forest fire.

    Intellectual property is a conundrum. I truly believe we need intellectual property because I believe that enough people do not act in the self-interest of society that lack of intellectual property would create a dog-eat-dog world, and I truly believe the world would have fewer choices without it. Recently the folks over at Against Monopoly, to my great surprise, posted a link to a study that indicates markets with unlimited choices ultimately limit choice. I will not pretend to understand why. I have an intuitive feeling this is so, but the proof is beyond my capability.

    Though I believe in intellectual property, that does not prevent me from finding silliness in it. Intellectual property serves a specific purpose envisioned by the creators of the constitution. As with any purpose or function, it should have its limits. Intellectual property has exceeded those limits and our system, albeit painfully slowly, is in the process of correcting those problems. Of course, "painfully slow" is a relative term. The real abuses of the system have occurred in the last couple of decades, which is really not that long, though it may seem so. We have issues that it has taken us more than a century to correct, so twenty years is short.

    I enjoy Mike's perspectives because they make me think. I am also ready to jump all over Mike when I think he is in error or has stretched a point too far. Of course, he is quite able to defend his viewpoint. Though there is seriousness behind all this, it is also a kind of hobby too.

    My one goal is to have one person who is vehemently anti-intellectual property admit that intellectual property, when properly administered, can serve a useful function for society.

    There is a corollary. If society is finding that intellectual property is not as useful as it should be, then society has a responsibility to change the system. That is what is happening right now. In re Bilski and the CAFC cases that have cited Bilski are correcting the system.

    I find many things objectionable about the comments made regarding some of these posts, but they are not worth my time to address. The ones I find most disturbing and ignorant are those claiming that "the system is broke and needs abolished." If the system is broken based on a few abuses, then democracy is broken and must be abolished, for similar abuses are occurring in our political system. However, no one is saying we should abolish democracy. Rightfully so.

    Our system was set up to make incremental changes, and we have done so to our democracy, which includes intellectual property. We incrementally change the system (well, excluding trillion dollar programs that are supposed to jump start the economy that will not do so) until we find a balance that works. That is the democracy I live in and the one I choose to live in.

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