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168 comments

How is this ethical? (3, Interesting)

ground.zero.612 (1563557) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673223)

Better yet, how can I patent my own DNA?

Re:How is this ethical? (2, Insightful)

matt4077 (581118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673639)

Maybe by investing 20 years of your life and millions of dollars to find something that will lead to a process that allows you to create antibiotics that save millions of lives. You can then patent that process and those antibiotics. For 20 years. Oh, and the royalties go to your employer who financed your research and will invest it into more research.

Yes, it's an evil evil broken system.

NOOOOO!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29674023)

Get your not-anti-intellectual-property blasphemy out of my /.

Re:How is this ethical? (4, Insightful)

Evil Shabazz (937088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674159)

I would posit that patenting your research for commercial gain should exempt said research from Nobel Prize eligibility.. but that's just me. In Nobel's will, it's pretty clear his award was meant to encourage the advancement of mankind - not the advancement of a company's balance sheet. The two motives are pretty exclusive. Either you've done the research and are making it publicly available to all of mankind - or you are keeping it for yourself and only offering the benefits of the research to the select individuals who can afford it. If you're patenting it, your motive is profit.

Re:How is this ethical? (1)

matt4077 (581118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674329)

How is that exclusive? Nobel himself patented dynamite, and only with that money could afford the prize, which certainly is a benefit to society. Anything a company legally sells is a benefit to society. If that cancer drug is not a benefit for the patient, would he (or his insurance) not buy it? If that tomato weren't a benefit for you, would you buy it? In any transaction that's not illegal (i. e. both sides are free to refuse to make it), both sides increase their utility. Of course there are exceptions (weapons), but the principle is the fundamental idea of capitalism. And while there are problems when capitalism is taken to the extreme, it's pretty obvious by now that well-regulated companies acting in their self-interest ultimately further mankind's goals.

Re:How is this ethical? (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674511)

it's pretty obvious by now that well-regulated companies acting in their self-interest ultimately further mankind's goals.

Sure. Well regulated companies might. But there lies the flaw. If the regulations were working properly companies wouldn't be patenting the fruits of basic research nor stuff they just found in nature. These are not well regulated companies. And the fact that they have lobby groups the size of congress, with budgets to match, helps ensure the regulations stay broken.

Re:How is this ethical? (1)

s73v3r (963317) | more than 4 years ago | (#29675549)

Capitalism does not work in humanity's best interests. It works in the best interests of itself. Occasionally those interests may overlap, but not very often.

Re:How is this ethical? (2, Interesting)

Bazar (778572) | more than 4 years ago | (#29675797)

No capitalism doesn't work FOR humanity's best interests, however that doesn't mean their work doesn't further the advances of humanity.

Thinking of some of the greatest inventions of last century, the light-bulb or automobile. Both were made by great inventors, both drastically changed the world, both were made with profits in mind, and both had patents on their inventions.

Anyone who thinks that its wrong to make money for advanced research should get a clue on how the world works.
The same can be said for anyone who instantly assumes that all patents should be worthless.

Re:How is this ethical? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29676301)

//SNIP// In any transaction that's not illegal (i. e. both sides are free to refuse to make it), both sides increase their utility. Of course there are exceptions (weapons), but the principle is the fundamental idea of capitalism. .

Weapons an exception?!?!?
Self preservation and protection of one's property certainly seem to have utility to me.

Re:How is this ethical? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29674355)

In Nobel's will, it's pretty clear his award was meant to encourage the advancement of mankind - not the advancement of a company's balance sheet. The two motives are pretty exclusive.

Quick, someone get me an Ayn Rand scholar, stat

Re:How is this ethical? (2, Insightful)

santiagodraco (1254708) | more than 4 years ago | (#29675119)

It has nothing to do with motive, it has to do with effect. If it benefits mankind it qualifies. Who cares if the person profits from it at the same time? Would you begrudge someone recognition just because it profits them in some way?

That's a sure way to cut back on advancement several tens of years or more.

Re:How is this ethical? (3, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674539)

Maybe by investing 20 years of your life and millions of dollars to find something that will lead to a process that allows you to create antibiotics that save millions of lives. You can then patent that process and those antibiotics.

The question here is should you be able to patent the DNA itself? You didn't design it, in fact you had nothing whatsoever to do with its existence, you merely figured out how it worked - which took 20 years and millions of dollars. Obviously that effort should be rewarded, and just as obviously you can't possibly own a (very important) part of me, this not being ancient Greece or not-so-ancient USA.

Anyway, I don't think that Nobel prices should be given for patented work. After all, the whole point of the price is to reward improving humanity, but patents already supposedly do this.

Re:How is this ethical? (2, Insightful)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674745)

The question here is should you be able to patent the DNA itself?

That is not the question here, though. They've patented a method to analyze ribosomes, not the ribosomes themselves.

Anyway, I don't think that Nobel prices should be given for patented work.

So, if I go check out the thread on the physics prize ( http://tech.slashdot.org/story/09/10/06/1427237/Father-of-Fiber-Optics-Wins-Nobel-Prize [slashdot.org] ) I should see this argument there too?

Anyway, everything is going to be patented now regardless. Due to how cutthroat companies are, researchers have to patent simply to defend their work from people that might eventually troll them. Maybe if the patent system actually worked, you might have a case to make there, but unfortunatly researchers have to think about their work on a legal standing these days, too.

Re:How is this ethical? (1)

shovas (1605685) | more than 4 years ago | (#29675685)

Ask yourself again if it's an evil broken system when you're on your deathbed for lack of medicine that could have been developed and manufactured cheaply had it not been for prohibitive licensing and monopolistic practices surrounding these patents.

This has already happened and continues to happen in other areas of medicine.

But "it's not my problem" and "it doesn't affect me"...yet.

There is nothing but shame in this.

Re:How is this ethical? (1)

Kizeh (71312) | more than 4 years ago | (#29675701)

Even if it was funded with taxpayer money? Even if the patent prevents or significantly hinders companies and other universities from furthering the research?

Re:How is this ethical? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29675623)

Better yet, how can I patent my own butt?

There- fixed it for you.

This is sick! (2, Insightful)

Finallyjoined!!! (1158431) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673253)

I'm going to go down there & patent shit, then sue any sod that has a crap.

What's the world coming to?

Re:This is sick! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29673567)

It's unethical, and unconstitutional. Eventually someone will challenge it and it will go before the supreme court, and if we're lucky the patents will be nullified.

Re:This is sick! (2, Insightful)

Finallyjoined!!! (1158431) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673593)

Unfortunately we won't. Too much wonga to be made by Corporations.

Re:This is sick! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29676069)

You speak Hutt?

Re:This is sick! (1)

s73v3r (963317) | more than 4 years ago | (#29675567)

It's unethical, and unconstitutional.

Exactly why he's going to succeed.

Re:This is sick! (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674153)

"I'm going to go down there & patent shit, then sue any sod that has a crap."

I'm sure I can dig up prior art.

I don't understand... (3, Insightful)

Thantik (1207112) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673257)

How can you patent something that nature already patented itself millions of years ago? Hasn't the patent run out yet?!

Re:I don't understand... (2, Informative)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673407)

... cover not only the process for determining the structure of the molecules, but also the computation used to design new antibiotics.

You can not patent ideas or discoveries. But you can patent applications/machines. And if you live in a weird country, algorithms.

Re:I don't understand... (2, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673441)

It takes significant R&D to determine these structures and it seems that the patent office considers the discovery of a pre-existing biological component to be deserving of protection as much as a designed system for that very reason. It's indicative that we really should get around to reforming the patent system.

Re:I don't understand... (3, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673555)

It takes even more to visit other planets. Should Mars become the patented intellectual property of the people running the Mars rover program?

The significant R&D is irrelevant to the patent process. A guy inventing things at his kitchen table with coat hanger wire is more eligible for a patent than someone who discovers the workings of nature.

We should reform the patent system.

Re:I don't understand... (1)

matt4077 (581118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674375)

It takes even more to visit other planets. Should Mars become the patented intellectual property of the people running the Mars rover program?

That's basically how the American West was explored: you take the risk of going there, if you survive, you own a piece of land. And ownership last forever, unlike patents that expire after 20 years.

Re:I don't understand... (1)

buswolley (591500) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674835)

yeah.

You know I think the nobel prize should only be given for things that are non-patentable, and have been opensourced.

Re:I don't understand... (1)

s73v3r (963317) | more than 4 years ago | (#29675589)

He said, forgetting the exploitations of the native peoples that where there before the settlers.

Re:I don't understand... (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#29675697)

It takes even more to visit other planets. Should Mars become the patented intellectual property of the people running the Mars rover program?

Don't give the greedy fuckers any ideas!

Re:I don't understand... (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673753)

the patent office

The US patent office. Mind you, if you're in a country that doesn't respect WTO/US patents, it doesn't matter.

Re:I don't understand... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29673581)

From the article:
  "Some of these patents, held by Yale in the name of the prize-winner Thomas Steitz and others, cover not only the process for determining the structure of the molecules, but also the computation used to design new antibiotics."

This is not a patenting ribosome this is patenting a method to get ribosome crystals and drug design pipeline. Multiple labs do ribosome crystallography each of the are using it is own way to get crystals. There is no harm in this patent, really. There a "ribosome patent". Relax:)

Re:I don't understand... (1)

sarduwie (1571169) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674021)

You are too relaxed and therefore incoherent. :) But you make a point. :)

Not Very Noble (4, Informative)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673315)

Insert tired old joke about Nobel/Noble.

In Nobel's own words:
"The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind."

Seems to me someone shouldn't win for doing something that benefits their pocket books first, and mankind second.

Angry emails to the Nobel Foundation, GO!

Postal address: The Nobel Foundation
P.O. Box 5232, SE-102 45 Stockholm, Sweden
Street address: Sturegatan 14, Stockholm
Tel. +46 (0)8 663 09 20
Fax +46 (0)8 660 38 47
E-mail info@nobel.se
comments@nobelprize.org

Re:Not Very Noble (-1, Troll)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673735)

Mod this communist DOWN!!!

Ha, that was fun. :-)

Re:Not Very Noble (4, Insightful)

dmartin (235398) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673843)

Except that from the quote form Nobel, the benefit to pockets of the inventors does not factor into it.

The piece of the sentence

"The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes

states that
    i) that the prize should be distributed annually
  ii) some logistics dealing with the estate.

So Nobel's statement is, in essence, that we should give the Nobel prize to those who, in the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.

In comparing two discoveries we need to compare their relative benefit to mankind; the benefit of the individual is completely and utterly irrelevant. That is, it is irrelevant if the individual (or individuals) benefited more than mankind as a whole; nor does it matter when comparing the two discoveries which group made "more" out of their discovery pre-Nobel prize. Nobel's sentiment is solely concerned with the benefit to mankind.

To be blantent and explicit about it, pretend for a moment that "benefit" was an actual quantifiable measure. It is not, but we can still look at the logical structure of the statement. If we have two discoveries A and B with
A: mankind benefit: 500 personal gain: 800
B: mankind benefit: 505 personal gain: 2000
then "B" has greater benefit to mankind of these two discoveries. The last column is completely irrelevant. (BTW, personal gain will probably always exceed mankind benefit as the scientists gain the same benefit you or I would, plus whatever recognition etc. in their field, other prizes, awards, grants, etc. The only way I could see personal gain being less is if the personal sacrafices involved were worse than all the other benefits to the individual).

If you wish to argue that a patented discovery lessens the value to mankind as a whole, by all means go ahead. But the argument that you have presented simply does not hang together -- Nobel makes no comment (at least with the quote you have provided) about the discoverer's personal gain.

PS. If you did want to argue about something mentioned in Nobel's statement, it is that Nobel prizes typically don't go within a year of a device conferring the greatest benefit to mankind.

Re:Not Very Noble (1)

migla (1099771) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674485)

Reminds me of the BSD/GPL license discussion. I like GPL. Nobel would maybe have been in the BSD-type camp?

Re:Not Very Noble (2, Insightful)

s73v3r (963317) | more than 4 years ago | (#29675631)

The thing is, does locking down a discovery so only one company can actually use it reduce the benefit to mankind? Many people would say yes.

Re:Not Very Noble (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29674563)

Jonas Salk discovered and gave away the Polio Vaccine for free - everyone thought he was crazy because he could have patented it and made bank.

Patenting things like this disgusts me.

Re:Not Very Noble (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 4 years ago | (#29675335)

"Insert tired old joke about Nobel/Noble."

This one?

""The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind using exclusively Nobel patented premium explosive products such as Dynamite(tm), Gelignite(tm), or a Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft cannon."

Now that would be a fun Prize.

How (2, Funny)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673345)

How in the world do you patent something like this. I expect the people at the patent office see the patent request and are like "What the hell is this?" then a few guys pass it around and all decided they dunno what it is. So they shrug "Must be new" out comes the patent approved stamp!

Re:How (0, Flamebait)

matt4077 (581118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673437)

How in the world do you complain about something like this. I expect the people at slashdot see the patent and are like "Micro$soft suxxx and I want my stuff for free?" then a few guys pass it around and all decided they dun like it. So they shrug "Must be evil" out comes the +5 insightful post!

Re:How (4, Insightful)

matt4077 (581118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673509)

With less sarcasm: the ribosome is not patented. It's using the knowledge about it to create drugs using specific methods that is. Yes, it'd be great if it all were free for all, but this is arguably why the patent system was created: it's very important research, even basic research that could never be fully financed by patent royalties. It's important that some of the certainly large financial gains the drug companies made with this discovery (a lot of antibiotics target the ribosome and were discovered using the patented processes) go to the institutions that financed the risky 20-year gamble in the first place. Being in the hands of a research organization, any money will be devoted to future research.

Re:How (2, Insightful)

rodarson2k (1122767) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674235)

The problem with this patent is enforement. How can they prove that you used the Steitz ribosome structure to design your new drug and not, say, the Cate structure, or the Ramashandran structure? If anything, real science would be utilizing all of the available data, comparing and contrasting bacterial and human ribosomes to determine which sites are relevant for antibiotics.

The coordinates are publicly available, anyway, so I could run MD on the structure for 1 picosecond and i would have "my" structure, which would be an interesting legal case in its own right.

I can't find the time to read the entire patent, but in the abstract, the "methods" they claim are used on a daily basis by groups around the world. And have been for the better part of four years.

Re:How (1)

ajs (35943) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674829)

I looked for this because I didn't want to post redundantly, but there's more that needs to be said, here: I'm no fan of bad patents, but Slashdot has mis-posted about patents time and time again. It's time that the Slashdot editors start doing some basic (and I mean 2 minutes tops) fact-checking of these articles:

1. Does the submitted article claim that a basic process or natural phenomenon is being patented while the source article claims that it's the process around utilizing these that has been covered? This happens at least 1-2 times per week.

2. Does the article misleadingly only discuss one or a small minority of claims from a patent which has far more?

3. Is the article based only on the patent abstract? Does it even claim that a lawyer has reviewed its interpretation?

4. Is the patent a design patent, and not a process or mechanism patent at all?

If any one of the above is true, it should be noted before posting to the main page.

If more than one of the above is true, then it's simply not worth the confusion of posting to the main page.

Re:How (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 4 years ago | (#29675395)

"this is arguably why the patent system was created: it's very important research, even basic research that could never be fully financed by patent royalties."

This sentence no sense make. The patent system was created to finance research which patents could never fully finance?

patents... (3, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673353)

New rule: you can not patent anything that you yourself did not create. No patents should be granted for any component of a naturally occuring system. Create an entirely novel system that doesn't exist in nature? Fine, have at it. On a separate note, it seems to me that with all the trouble we seem to be having with our 200+ year old patent system, that we ought to be able to devise a better system for encouraging innovation.

Re:patents... (2, Informative)

Mendokusei (916318) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673457)

That has always been the rule. A naturally occuring phenomena is what is known as a "judicial exception," and is not eligible for patent protection.

Re:patents... (2, Funny)

Random2 (1412773) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673463)

New rule: you can not patent anything that you yourself did not create.

So, does that mean I can patent my children? Maybe they'll give me a Nobel peace prize for it too.

Re:patents... (1)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674871)

So when they have sex they have to pay you royalties?

Re:patents... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29673465)

we ought to be able to devise a better system for encouraging innovation.

There is a better system available. Nobody knows what it is, though. It has, unfortunately, been protected as a trade secret.

Re:patents... (1)

agbinfo (186523) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674405)

I still disagree with patents but that's the best argument for patents I've ever seen.

Re:patents... (1)

toppavak (943659) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673479)

Don't give them ideas! At least patents eventually expire now.

Re:patents... (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673507)

But what if I event a new way of viewing something?

SLOWDOWN COWBOY, EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVEN'T POSTED IN AN HOUR OR SO, WE'RE GONNA SAY IT'S BEEN 18 SECONDS CAUSE YOU MIGHT BE TROLLING OUR SITE! OH NOES!

Re:patents... (5, Informative)

matt4077 (581118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673551)

New rule: you can not comment on something you didn't even bother to read. It's processes to find or design antibiotics targeting the ribosome that were patented, not the ribosome itself. You're creating millions of ribosomes each second, and you haven't been sued yet, have you?

Re:patents... (1)

baKanale (830108) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674231)

Old rule: This is Slashdot. Nobody ever RTFA's. It's tradition.

Re:patents... (1)

melikamp (631205) | more than 4 years ago | (#29675779)

I believe that patents reduce the total utility of discoveries for the society. Instead of rewarding past inventors with monopolies, we should reward future inventors with grants. The decision to reward a researcher with a grant should be based on many relevant factors, among them the history, the standing, the proposal. All know-how should be in the public domain, period.

The outcome would be better in every respect. Inventors would still be encouraged by monetary prizes (to what degree, no one can compute anyway) and fully compensated for their research. The public would benefit greatly compared with the current system. When it comes to inventions which increase an acknowledged public good (like drugs or infrastructure improvements), this system would clearly be more ethical, as the goodies would be available to anyone for the price it takes to manufacture them. And all around, the prices of goods would come down due to the cut-throat competition among the manufacturers.

Will manufacturers themselves stop to innovate? Impossible. Introducing a novel device or a feature ahead of your competitors and so gaining the momentum on the free market would be just as valuable as it is right now.

Take everyone's favorite example of an area where the research is said to be too costly to conduct without patents: drugs. I call major bullshit. We, consumers, end up compensating big pharma in full for all research, all marketing, and, if rumors are true, all the coke they blow with their monopoly money. On top of that, whenever they get distracted from developing "anti-aging" shit (not very often) and come out with a life-saving drug, only the rich can afford it. It happens all the time: they make all their money back, and they only sell it to the rich. Does anyone really believe that we will pay more, as a society, if we pay for the research in advance?

Patent law has merit in a society like early USA, where skilled manufacturers are extremely rare and monopoly is local by necessity, because a global monopoly is logistically impossible. We live in a different world. In our world of super-powerful corporations, global monopolies run rampant with or without exclusive rights protected by the government, while skilled manufacturers and researchers are dime-a-dozen.

I guess, my main point is Eben Moglen's point too: there is no such thing as shortage of innovation when the Internet is cheap. All "intellectual property" laws are utter crap: they benefit only the ultra-rich, while everyone else gets hosed, with one possible exception of the trademark law.

Re:patents... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29676145)

New rule: you can not patent anything that you yourself did not create. No patents should be granted for any component of a naturally occuring system. Create an entirely novel system that doesn't exist in nature? Fine, have at it. On a separate note, it seems to me that with all the trouble we seem to be having with our 200+ year old patent system, that we ought to be able to devise a better system for encouraging innovation.

You going to patent that?

Patent (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29673381)

From reading the patent summary, it appears to claim some techniques related to x-ray crystallography. It's not a patent on ribosomes, which already existed in nature.

Re:Patent (1)

Mendokusei (916318) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673415)

You must be new around here. /. commenters don't ever actually read the patent summary, spec, or claims.

Re:Patent (2, Insightful)

Zordak (123132) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674229)

Especially not the claims. Reading the claims is tantamount to reading the article. The proper ./ method for commenting on a patent is to read the title, pick a few words out of the abstract, cry about how it's obvious and how patents are killing innovation, and cite as prior art some software that was released three years after the filing date and is irrelevant.

Re:Patent (1)

mayko (1630637) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673533)

So it's like patenting the act of surgery, but not scalpels.

Either way it keeps other researchers, and companies from advancing or innovating where they left off. So for the duration of this patent they will have complete control over how we use this technology but more importantly how much we pay for it.

Going back to my first statement. Think of the negative impact on medical advances if someone, years ago, were able to patent "physical modification of human organs using a blade." Obviously it sounds absurd... and that is the point.

Re:Patent (1)

matt4077 (581118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673721)

Think of the negative impact on medical advances if someone, years ago, were able to patent "physical modification of human organs using a blade."

No, it doesn't sound absurd. A patent expires after 20 years. Surgery was invented in the 18th century. Missing out on the first few years wouldn't matter anymore, since surgery is probably more limited by anatomy, biochemistry and pharmacological research than constantly inventing new techniques. Even better, a functioning patent system might have motivated someone to think of surgery earlier. Maybe more than 20 years earlier.

I'm not saying the system is perfect. I don't believe business patents or all the other seemingly obvious stuff are useful. But by misrepresenting the other side of the argument, you're not doing the cause a favor. People with too strong an opinion usually haven't thought the issue through.

Re:Patent (2, Insightful)

ajs (35943) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674931)

It's true. The only problems with the patent system right now are:

* Patents in fields that advance far more quickly than physical industries are protected for the same amount of time (e.g. software)

* Patents can be trivially modified and re-submitted in order to "renew" an existing patent (e.g. pharma industry)

* Prior art reviews and obviousness tests are poorly done, relying mostly on court challenges after the fact to resolve such issues

Resolve those three problems and you have a patent system that accomplishes the original goal: to foster the advancement of the sciences and useful arts.

I've proposed solutions here before, but to re-cap:

1) Establish a product lifecylce metric for each industry and tie patent duration to reasonable multiples of the lifecycle (e.g. 2-4 times the time it takes to design and release a new product in that industry)

2) Enhance the review process and reject far more patents on the basis of prior art.

3) Open the prior art review process up to the public after the first round approval.

4) Establish fines for those who repeatedly submit applications for patents that have prior art (not just a couple of times, but as an ongoing business practice; the goal is not to hurt individuals who make mistakes).

Re:Patent (3, Insightful)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673745)

Except this is much more complex than just cut and paste. You can't patent, say, a person blowing air into glass for the purposes of shaping but you can patent a machine that performs the same operation.

The problem with this blog post is the author seems more bent on proclaiming "they patented this, patents are bad, therefore this is bad" rather than saying what parts of the patents are bad. There's obviously something novel in what was accomplished here. USPTO might be ignorant to prior art, but I doubt the Nobel committees are as lax.

Plus reading the patent abstracts don't do me much good either; I lack the necessary background to make any heads or tails of them. (Hell, I can't tell the diff between an -ane and an -ene without a cheat sheet.)

What I can tell is they're not patenting the ribosomes or any resulting compound created, but instead some method of isolating and analyzing them. This at least opens the door for a patent and is what the patent system was designed to protect. We have a methodology now that blue chip pharmecuticals are taking advantage of hand over fist but would never have gone through the risk of actually pioneering; it makes sense to have some of that trickle down to the people that actually created the process so they can continue research and make more breakthroughs (and allow the cycle to begin anew).

Re:Patent (1)

matt4077 (581118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673855)

You can't patent, say, a person blowing air into glass for the purposes of shaping but you can patent a machine that performs the same operation.

I'm pretty sure if our patent system had been in place at the time glass was invented, it could have been patented. Many people make the mistake of thinking "oh it's so obvious. Just melt some silicon and form it into a bottle using air pressure". But it's not obvious. And in that case it was one of humanities most important inventions. Think how much work went into perfecting the process: the right tools, the perfect temperature etc. It took over 300 years until we had glass that was at least free of visible imperfections. And why would anybody ever spend years to do that kind of research? I'm sure at the time glass was invented, new traveled slowly and it was easy to keep the process somewhat secret for a few years. Today, we believe it's better to share all the details openly and then impose and artificial restriction to encourage invention.

A properly working patent system is about free, open disclosure and sharing of knowledge.

Re:Patent (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674179)

A properly working patent system is about free, open disclosure and sharing of knowledge.

I would argue that's an idealistic patent system. (And probably not a patent system at all.)

People, however, are not ideal. There are idealists who want information to be free, and then there's robber barons who only want to make a buck off everyone's creativity. Without patent protection, a little guy could make a fantastic product and then have it stolen by big conglom-o and have zero recourse. (Yes, I know that technically even WITH patent protection, in today's courts that's a massive uphill climb, BUT it does at least allow for the climb.)

We can't let stupid decisions by the USPTO and SCOTUS blind us to the underlying need for a patent system: to protect research and development from the types of people that destroyed Wall Street.

This glassblowing thingy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29674189)

You can't patent, say, a person blowing air into glass for the purposes of shaping but you can patent a machine that performs the same operation.

I'm pretty sure if our patent system had been in place at the time glass was invented, it could have been patented. Many people make the mistake of thinking "oh it's so obvious. Just melt some silicon and form it into a bottle using air pressure". But it's not obvious. And in that case it was one of humanities most important inventions. Think how much work went into perfecting the process: the right tools, the perfect temperature etc. It took over 300 years until we had glass that was at least free of visible imperfections. And why would anybody ever spend years to do that kind of research? I'm sure at the time glass was invented, new traveled slowly and it was easy to keep the process somewhat secret for a few years. Today, we believe it's better to share all the details openly and then impose and artificial restriction to encourage invention.

A properly working patent system is about free, open disclosure and sharing of knowledge.

You guys are being ironic, right? Or sarcastic? Or something?

Because it almost seems as if you really didn't know that glassblowing was the originating reason of a modern patent system. This [wikipedia.org] should be common knowledge.

The thing was that a lot of glass was blown in Venice but every expert guarded his trade secrets very well and if he invented something new and then happened to die, the information died with him. The government thought it would be better if people would make the information public and then be given exclusive right to the methods for a while.

Re:This glassblowing thingy... (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674335)

I didn't. I was trying for an analogy to say you can't patent the human part of a process and I'm not sure I even hit that right...and it just went on its own track afterwards.

Re:This glassblowing thingy... (1)

matt4077 (581118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674435)

You guys are being ironic, right? Or sarcastic? Or something?

Actually, I didn't know. Thanks for letting us know. It is indeed quite funny. (and proves my point).

To Summarize (2, Insightful)

Fnord666 (889225) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674393)

USPTO might be ignorant...

You could have stopped right there.

How long (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673419)

Anyone know how many years the patents hold? TFA doesn't say.

Also, what are you prohibited to do in research? Is it a big problem? Why not move to Europe for researching?

Re:How long (2, Informative)

coolsnowmen (695297) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673529)

I'm betting that the Article doesn't list a lot of googleable knowledge.

Are you looking for something like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Term_of_patent_in_the_United_States [wikipedia.org]

For applications filed on or after June 8, 1995,[1] the patent term is 20 years from the filing date of the earliest U.S. application to which priority is claimed (excluding provisional applications).[2]

Answers to the Article's conclussion: (5, Interesting)

rwv (1636355) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673455)

But should research so fundamental to life, such as the ribosome structure, be locked up for commercial gainâ"like Dynamite? Should a private institution, such as Yale, have the only say over how ribosomes may be developed into new biomedical technologies?

No, research should never be locked up. The patent system should evolve to the point where laymen with appropriate field knowledge and the right tools can copy ANY patented technique.

Yes, Yale absolutely has a right to decide what they do with their patent. If they sit on it, that's fine. There are other methods of doing what they learned to do. If the license it, that's fine too. Giving businesses the ability to benefit from their basic research is a good thing.

If Yale accumulates a big enough patent portfolio and tampers with the free market, they should be subject to government investigations and penalties. But in the case of Yale... they'll license to patent to bring in money to fund more fundamental research to future Yale scientists can advance the state of the art even further.

If the author really wants to attack stupid biological patents, he should investigate (correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the biggest offender is) Monsanto.

Not as evil as author claims? (5, Informative)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673461)

From the article, ...cover not only the process for determining the structure of the molecules, but also the computation used to design new antibiotics.

Now, this might not be saying the whole story, but it doesn't sound like the ribosomes are what's being patented (which would result in ire here). Instead, it's a technique of how to find what molecules and bindings are used by the ribosomes (or something along those lines.)

The second part, the computation, probably a little more evil, but again it's a little light on details.

I could probably do a patent search and see exactly what the abstracts are...but I doubt I could understand them without a tl;dr and a chemistry glossary.

Basically, there's undoubtedly something patentable within this process it's just a matter of making sure they've got the right thing patented. I don't see anyone patenting a gene or a molcule here so there's no "nature made this already" defense. Furthermore, I don't think anyone can exactly make an "obviousness" claim here; USPTO might be pretty lax about prior art, but I'd think the Nobel committee would be a bit more thorough about trying to locate prior research.

Re:Not as evil as author claims? (2, Insightful)

TeethWhitener (1625259) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674207)

You're onto something. I'm a chemist, so I can understand the patents without a tl;dr. What they've patented is a method for making high-quality crystals of ribosomes for x-ray analysis and the crystals (and this is key) produced by that method. Here's an analogy. I invent a new type of generator and I patent it and its products (electricity from that generator). Nothing wrong with that. Two days later, /. runs a story with the headline 'Crazy man patents electricity.' Aaaaaand scene. But in all seriousness, I do have to take /. to task for only having this story up about the Nobel Chem prize. Kind of spoils the importance of the discovery, guys.

Re:Not as evil as author claims? (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 4 years ago | (#29676491)

Kind of spoils the importance of the discovery, guys.

The importance of the discovery was spoiled when something that should never have been patentable was patented.

And yes, I understand the patents too.

Re:Not as evil as author claims? (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29674403)

The patents include the methodology of how to purify, crystallize, and solve the structures of ribosomes. This is non-trivial as ribosomes are roughly 100 times larger than the average protein subjected to this technique, contains many different parts, not all of which are protein. The problem gets much harder the larger and more parts their are and quite frankly if it hadn't been done already I'd say that anyone attempting the project was inviting failure (why yes! I am an x-ray crystallographer!). For this massive, non-trivial, non-obvious, original work they have every right to protect and license their intellectual property as they see fit. It even isn't as though the individual researchers are getting rich off of taxpayer funded research: they'll get very little. Yale (and the lab, but mostly Yale) will get some money to do research and other campus activities. The computation part we'll see if that holds up. I haven't read the whole patent, but if they're trying to say that nobody can use the publicly available structures to try and do drug design that portion will be struck down as soon as somebody wishes to challenge it.

Posting as AC due to modding the thread.

Before you comment... (5, Informative)

H0p313ss (811249) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673469)

... at least read the summary carefully. They didn't patent the natural structures.

They should strip the Nobels.... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29673483)

... from anyone who patents what they won them for. The prizes should reward altruism, not greed.

Re:They should strip the Nobels.... (2, Interesting)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673793)

Then strip the prize money from the award too.

Anyway, what would stop a pharmecutical from taking the method, getting their own patent for it and suing other people who use it into oblivion? In a utopia, you might have a point, but I'd rather Yale hold these patents than Merck, Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline.

Re:They should strip the Nobels.... (1)

GrumblyStuff (870046) | more than 4 years ago | (#29676219)

Is there anyway to patent something then effectively void it as if the duration was up thus preventing anyone else from patenting and locking it up?

Michael Crichton novel Next... (spoiler) (1)

nebaz (453974) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673511)

Michael Crichton wrote a novel in 2006 called "Next" which addresses this issue, the sloppiness of laws regarding genes, genetics and patents, it is kind of on the mark with this topic. In that novel, a man's genes are patented by a company who is conducting a trial, and the company steals his child, claiming "intellectual property". Kind of precient, and scary stuff.

Misleading Summary (5, Insightful)

cabjf (710106) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673519)

It's not the "fundamental components of biology" that are being patented. It's the new methods of manipulating and studying them. I don't really see the problem. Patents can be licensed and will eventually end. It costs a lot of money in R&D to do this research. Why should an organization bear this cost out of the kindness of their heart? Isn't this pretty much the point of the patent system? To promote the sharing of new and novel ideas while still protecting the inventor's/researcher's work?

Re:Misleading Summary (1)

JackL (39506) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673823)

I'm with you that it is not the "fundamental components of biology" that are being patented. What I do not understand fully is what is being patented? The articles are rather vague when it says, "cover not only the process for determining the structure of the molecules, but also the computation used to design new antibiotics." It seems like Steitz et al are hardly the first to grow these crystals. See: co-winner Ada E. Yonath. Also, it seems like the computation is more of a software patent. Do we have those in the US?

As far as your question,"Why should an organization bear this cost out of the kindness of their heart?", I don't know for a fact, but I am guessing most of the work was paid for by NIH, NSF or some other granting agency.

Re:Misleading Summary (3, Interesting)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673913)

The article is very light on details, unfortunatly. I was personally hoping for a layman's description of what the patents constituted but instead it felt I was just reading an anti-patent tirade. But what was overlooked in the article is that they didn't patent ribosomes (which it sounded like what the author was trying to imply), but they patented a method for analyzing their structure.

The irony is this could be one of the best cases FOR having patents. Yale spends millions on research, makes a breakthrough, licences it out to Big Pharma and as a result Yale is able to get funding for more research.

I just wish there was more detail on the patents themselves rather than someone arguing against patents in general to make a better determination on how evil, to use the local patent buzzword, these patents actually are.

It depends entirely on investment capital ... (1)

Syncerus (213609) | more than 4 years ago | (#29673645)

Remember: the primary valid purpose of patents is to allow the recapture of investment capital plus additional profits in proportion to the utility of the discovery.

If making these scientific discoveries is highly capital intensive, then patentablity is both useful and desirable because it encourages initial investment; eventually the patent will expire.

So, I would argue the key question isn't the nature of the discovery, but rather the necessary investment to make the discovery. A logical corollary is that most business process patents are a sham and are economically destructive ...

In all the patent hate, don't forget they have a valid use and purpose.

Re:It depends entirely on investment capital ... (3, Informative)

Fnord666 (889225) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674525)

Remember: the primary valid purpose of patents is to allow the recapture of investment capital plus additional profits in proportion to the utility of the discovery.

I disagree.

The purpose of the patent system
The historical purpose of the patent system was to encourage the development of new inventions, and in particular to encourage the disclosure of those new inventions. Inventors are often hesitant to reveal the details of their invention, for fear that someone else might copy it. This leads to keeping inventions secret, which impedes innovation.
- Ius mentis

On Thomas Jefferson
For Jefferson the purpose of the patent office was to promulgate invention, not protect them. These two reasons are why he formulated a policy for patents that encouraged invention but maintained restrictions on what could be patented. Thus he was able to be true to his beliefs and perform the duties foisted upon him by the Patent Act of 1790.
- www.earlyamerica.com

Re:It depends entirely on investment capital ... (1)

Syncerus (213609) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674963)

By what means does the patent system "encourage the development of new inventions, and in particular to encourage the disclosure of those new inventions" ?

When you quote "Inventors are often hesitant to reveal the details of their invention, for fear that someone else might copy it", to what do you ascribe the fear?

My post described the lower level mechanism of the goals to which you refer.

Summary is NOT misleading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29673719)

Not if your goal is to generate page views on a hot-button issue.

license fee? (1)

futurekill (745161) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674125)

I'm not looking forward to the day when we have to pay a license fee for my children...

Re:license fee? (3, Funny)

schon (31600) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674283)

On the plus side, it does give you some leverage with poorly-behaved children. :)

"Eat your vegetables, or I won't pay your license fee, and Monsanto will come to take you away!"

Re:license fee? (2)

futurekill (745161) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674585)

Also lends more credence to the various forms of "...meet your maker..." phrases...

Hello.... My Name is..... (1)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 4 years ago | (#29674381)

Hello, My name is Bob (Patent Pending).

How long before we start patenting people....

mod do3n (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29674529)

halt. Even Emacs avajilable to

Patented ribosomes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29674567)

Wow. I'll stop transcribing DNA into proteins until I arrange a proper license agreement. Also, I ... AACCCCCCK!!#%!T^ 1 ]dsalfjhsa; 24`; a,.m .sag/..................

Government funding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29675647)

Did the government fund this in any way, there could be some issues here.

spon6e (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29675765)

right now. I tried, out of business it there. Bring I don't want to BitTorrent) Second, smells worse than a

mod U0p (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29676043)

out 0f business
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