Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Newman/Rifkin effort succeeds; patent application rejected

An opponent of patents on living things, Stuart Newman had no intention of making the entities disclosed in his patent application. His goal was to set a legal precedent that would keep others from profiting from any similar ‘‘inventions.’’

PTO officials said it was not so difficult to make the call this time because Newman’s technique could easily have created something that was much more person than not. But newer methods are allowing scientists to fine-tune those percentages, putting the patent office in an awkward position of being the federal arbiter of what is human.

Newman said: ‘‘The whole privatization of the biological world has to be looked at, so we don’t suddenly all find ourselves in the position of saying, ‘How did we get here? Everything is owned.’’’

The application, filed by Newman and Jeremy Rifkin, in 1997, described a technique for combining human embryo cells with cells from the embryo of a monkey, ape or other animal to create a blend of the two —— a “chimera”.

These issues also arose in the discussion of recent Australian work by Richard A. Jefferson, of CAMBIA [Centre for the Application of Molecular Biology to International Agriculture]in agricultural biotech.

Of the Jefferson work, the Australian reported on October 5, 2004 :

Researchers are "increasingly frustrated by a growing forest of
patents around innovations in the biological sciences", according to a Nature
report and editorial featured in its latest issue. "There is discontent that innovations from publicly funded scientists are being sold to private companies and locked up in exclusive licensing," the prestigious science journal says.
[See Nature, Vol 431, pg 491 and 494 September 30, 2004]

"Concern is mounting that poorer nations are being further
disenfranchised by richer countries' ownership and control of enabling technologies. "Even purely academic scientists are not immune from the effect of licensing obstacles on new techniques."

Already on the slate are agricultural and animal-breeding tools,
genetic resources, medical treatments and environmental remedies. The initial
BIOS portfolio will include a new method, developed by CAMBIA, for
transferring genes into plants using modified bacterial species. Professor Jefferson says this technique will sidestep patents held by biotech firm Monsanto. CAMBIA's
approach to open source has also been recognised by Computer Sciences Corp in
its new report, Open Source: Open for Business.

"CAMBIA's goal is to help local communities solve their agricultural
and environmental problems by unblocking the intellectual property logjam
that has stymied the full potential of modern genetics," CSC says.

"Open source is central to CAMBIA's mission: the open access toolkit
has been likened to Linux."

Meanwhile, Nature notes, the success of BIOS depends on active
participation by scientists willing to share information and contribute research
tools, as well as financial support from private and public backers.


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