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.

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Filed Under: genetically modified, gmo, open source, transparency


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2013 @ 4:04am

    not going to work

    It's not like people develop GMO's because they enjoy doing it, or do it as a hobby, as OSS is developed.

    Also the Open Source model has not been what anyone would really call a raging success, nor has it stopped the non-open source models from continuing to produce quality, quantity and profit.

    Profits that clearly result in better products and more developments.

    Open Source is very good at copying what others have done, but not very good at original developments or innovations.

    Also being open source does not make you immune from the patent system, or any other in place laws you have to abide by (agree with or not).

    So you have to ask yourself what you expect to achieve, it's clear it's not be achieved with Open Source principles ?

    So, basically it's a nice idea, but if it does not work with software, it's most certainly not going to work with GMO's.

    Being open source does not get you a loophole with current legislation, nor does it circumvent the patent system, and historically has not led to significant technical developments, or much in the way of commercial success.

    There is still a poorly defined method of paying programmers and developers and rewarding them for their efforts. With no prospect of commercial returns there is little incentive to develop commercial grade products.

    There is a very good reason why open source products are offered for free, because most people are not willing to pay for it, simply the quality and completeness, (the commercial shine) is not there.

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