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, 9 Feb 2009 @ 5:39am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Mike:

    Sadly, there are companies that have never filed for patents that have used trade secrets from the time they were formed. They seem unlikely to change their mode of behavior any time soon.

    I do have an interesting conundrum for you that you might find amusing to think about.

    As I may have told you, when integrated hydrostatic transmissions for front engine mowers were first patented in the late 1980's and the early 1990's, the number of patents reached into the hundreds, and there were five competitors in the market place (Dana, Eaton, Tecumseh, Tuff Torq/Kanzaki and Hydro-Gear). Hydro-Gear presented an integrated zero turn transaxle to the market place in 1995, and began selling units in about 1998, I think. However, Hydro-Gear had minimal patent protection for these products, especially in comparison to transaxles with two axles (the type used on front engine mowers).

    Here is the interesting point. Though Dana, Eaton and Tecumseh have essentially taken themselves out of the market place (first movers forced to exit market, details at 11), Tuff Torq is as vibrant as ever and Parker-Hannifin is throwing huge resources into this market. However, it has been at least 11 years after the introduction of integrated zero turn transmissions, the sales per year are in the hundreds of thousands of units, there are few, narrow patents, and yet Hydro-Gear remains the only company with an integrated hydrostatic transmission in this market.

    So, huge number of patents, multiple competitors. Minimal, narrow patents, only one company in a huge market.

    I might point out that after sitting on their hand for most of a decade that Tuff Torq is trying to launch transaxles in this market (I believe they have demonstrated three transaxles three years in a row at the lawn and garden expo in Louisville), thus far with minimal success (well, zero success to my knowledge, but they may have made some sales), and Parker-Hannifin is trying as well, thus far with no success.

    I thought you might find that amusing.

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