Tuesday, May 25, 2010

An old breed of life

Now, Boulton and Watt nearly crippled advances in steam technology by applying for a patent on the separate condenser. The problem was their design saved 75% of the fuel costs, but they tried to charge the full value of the saving for the price of their patent (virtually nullifying the value of the development to industrialists). They also blocked research and development through their patent (indeed, Watt apparently engaged in patent blocking).

Relevance? Well, according to one scientist the same could happen with genetic research:
A top UK scientist who helped sequence the human genome has said efforts to patent the first synthetic life form would give its creator a monopoly on a range of genetic engineering.
"I've read through some of these patents and the claims are very, very broad indeed," Professor Sulston told BBC News.

"I hope very much these patents won't be accepted because they would bring genetic engineering under the control of the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). They would have a monopoly on a whole range of techniques."
The trick being the range and broadness of the patent (by the way, it's absurd to deny that patent breeds monopoly, that's what a patent is, it is a legal monopoly of an idea based on origination).

As with steam engines, technological development might be held back by the attempt to establish such monopolies. The market is a poor driver of research. If we are to benefit from being able to create whatever biological pattern we care to choose to create, it needs to be a creative commons. The simple chase to be first to introduce a new technique should be sufficient incentive.

The drive to monopolise knowledge is part of a possible route to capitalist decadence.

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