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Michael Crichton on Why Gene Patents Are Bad

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the life-finds-a-way dept.

The Almighty Buck 367

BayaWeaver writes "Michael Crichton, author of The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park has made a strong case against gene patents in an op-ed for the New York Times. Striking an emotional chord, he begins with 'You, or someone you love, may die because of a gene patent that should never have been granted in the first place. Sound far-fetched? Unfortunately, it's only too real.' From there, he moves on to use logic, statistics, and his way with words to make his point. Arguing against the high costs of gene therapies thanks to related patents, he eventually offers hope that one day legislation will de-incentivize the hoarding of scientific knowledge. As he points out: 'When SARS was spreading across the globe, medical researchers hesitated to study it — because of patent concerns. There is no clearer indication that gene patents block innovation, inhibit research and put us all at risk.'"

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367 comments

I wish that he had written this earlier. (3, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997592)

Since his anti Global Warming book, he no longer appears to be as popular. In fact, I would guess that that little bit of political foley probably cost him dearly. Now, he comes up with something intelligent and I suspect that it will be easy for others to cast doubt on his arguments.

I wish that he would keep his mouth shut (4, Funny)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997740)

I've read a lot of Michael Crichton's works. I enjoyed them.

What I do not enjoy, however, is his political commentary. The same can be said for Orson Scott Card [ornery.org] . Why is it that authors, singers, actors, etc feel the need to get political? Are we enveloped in a society where it is expected that if you have any leverage, you push your beliefs on other people?

To quote a speech of Crichton [crichton-official.com] :

First, we need an environmental movement, and such a movement is not very effective if it is conducted as a religion. We know from history that religions tend to kill people, and environmentalism has already killed somewhere between 10-30 million people since the 1970s. It's not a good record.
Mr. Crichton, you're great at plot twists and you also happen to be great at political spin. Please keep to the former so I can remain a fan of yours. I like your position on this topic but you do not end your commentary well:

Fortunately, two congressmen want to make the full benefit of the decoded genome available to us all. Last Friday, Xavier Becerra, a Democrat of California, and Dave Weldon, a Republican of Florida, sponsored the Genomic Research and Accessibility Act, to ban the practice of patenting genes found in nature. Mr. Becerra has been careful to say the bill does not hamper invention, but rather promotes it. He's right. This bill will fuel innovation, and return our common genetic heritage to us. It deserves our support.
How will this bill fuel innovation? You wrote in Jurassic Park that it is better to invest billions in a dinosaur theme park than to find a cure for AIDS. Why? Because you can't charge people anything you want for a cure for AIDS, that would be immoral. What if it was acceptable to charge a million dollars for a single dose of a cure? The benefit of medical research would sky rocket and I'm sure more money would go into development. My question is simply, how do you ensure that forcing parts of research to be open to the public won't prevent companies from dumping money into that research? If a company discovers and goes through the painstaking research of finding "natural genes" then why shouldn't they be able to profit off that?

I agree with you, but if you're going to comment on this, you must be prepared for the counter argument. "He's right." Simply won't suffice for me.

Re:I wish that he would keep his mouth shut (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17997878)

I'm sure more money would go into development.

Or into advertisements of people screaming randomly assembled letters off of mountaintops while sitting in bathtubs. Your call.

My question is simply, how do you ensure that forcing parts of research to be open to the public won't prevent companies from dumping money into that research?

Because it didn't? As it was pointed out, countries where these things aren't patentable already have better genetic tests than the US does. This isn't some thought experiment, the proof is in the other parts of the world that have been making this work for years. The only reason that it would fail here would be petulant megacorps refusing to do any work at all if the government won't prevent people from competing against them, and once they've burned through their billions paying their executive officers while stalling development and taking out full page newspaper ads crying about how people are going to die because of that decision, they'd be replaced by companies that were willing to work despite competition.

Re:I wish that he would keep his mouth shut (5, Insightful)

Luyseyal (3154) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997884)

Why is it that authors, singers, actors, etc feel the need to get political? Are we enveloped in a society where it is expected that if you have any leverage, you push your beliefs on other people?

Why does anyone? Why do Slashdot posters get all political trying to push their ideologies on other people?

People are, by nature, "political animals" as Aristotle suggested 2300 years ago.
-l

Re:I wish that he would keep his mouth shut (5, Interesting)

Monkeyboy4 (789832) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998100)

Have you read Card? Or Hienlien? OR Crichton closely?

Almost all science fiction is really political and sociological story telling with a veneer of gadgets and aliens that allow the author to use well-crafted hyperbolic reality to avoid the ham-fisted arguments in a political text.

Not saying you aren't right in being annoyed by the politicking of Scifi authors, but it is a pretty long-standing tradition

Re:I wish that he would keep his mouth shut (1, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998300)

Heinlein and Card attacked politics and ethics, which is perfectly within their see as writers.

Crichton attacked science for political reasons. Politics and Science are not the same thing, and I pretty much find it unacceptable for anyone to attack science, not because they have some concrete reason to believe that a mistake is being made, but simply because they don't care for the truth.

Re:I wish that he had written this earlier. (5, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997746)

Of course it's easy to cast doubt on his arguments. If genes were not patentable, John Hammond would not have been able to patent all of that dinosaur DNA, and we would have had even more dinosaur-inhabited islands out there. There simply aren't enough cynical mathematicians out there to protect us against people building more of these parks. More people could have been senselessly killed in dinosaur attacks.

Fact: Gene patents save lives.

Re:I wish that he had written this earlier. (1)

armb (5151) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998108)

No, no. The problem was that not being able to patent it, he had to keep it all a secret. If he'd patented it, then published, a few cynical mathematicians could say "wouldn't it be better to have a power reset where the fast-moving carnivorous dinosaurs _can't_ get at it" from a safe distance on the mainland, there would be no need to have the entire security system relying on one greedy guy with no review system, and no-one would need to get eaten at all.

Re:I wish that he had written this... (1)

Reverend528 (585549) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997760)

I wish he had written this instead of Next. That book is unreadable.

Re:I wish that he had written this earlier. (0)

rayvd (155635) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997798)

To the contrary. He's been a tremendous voice of sanity against the ever increasing "church" of global warming. Of course, he's labeled a buffoon by those who prefer to run around like chickens with their heads cut off.

An article on a topic like this just lends credence to the fact that this is a thoughtful man who does his research -- better than many "scientists" out there who are simply going where the government $$ is.

Re:I wish that he had written this earlier. (2, Insightful)

Goaway (82658) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997830)

Do you also complain about the "church" of heliocentrism or the "church" of the germ theory of disease? Stop projecting your own ignorance of science onto those who actually do know things.

Re:I wish that he had written this earlier. (2)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998176)

You must've read his book. You found it in the fiction section of the bookstore. You might try various news sources if you're looking for something closer to fact.

Michael Crichton's a smart guy who wrote a work of fiction based on current science, politics, and the underlying fear of global warming. He's in the same category as Tom Clancy and John Grisham. He's doing it for the money, and I daresay he's doing it for more money than any global warming researcher as most research money is ear-marked for defense (I work at a University, so take my word on this).

If you start hyping his fiction as reality, you're just asking to get picked on.

Sure. (3, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998258)

Because the government here in the states has proven again and again that if you want funding to study global warming or evolution all you've got to do is step up with your hand out and they'll give you all the money you'll ever need.

Crichton cherry picked the research for his little global warming stance, intentionally skewing wherever possible. That's pretty much the opposite of "thoughtful research".

It's pretty much obvious to the whole world that things are getting warmer, and the vast majority of scientists from around the world are of the opinion that the change is related to human behavior. Even if you think they're wrong, you have got to take into account the fact that it's you against the whole fricking world, and while the world has been wrong before, that's the exception, not the rule.

Re:I wish that he had written this earlier. (1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998588)

So which church do you belong to?

The church of global warming can't be real because God would not allow it?
The church of global warming can't be real because humanity is not as powerful as nature?
The church of global warming is not a problem because technology will save us?

It takes far more faith to dismiss the risk of global warming than it does to recognize it.

silly arguments from a low-brow sensationalist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17997810)

I expect him to start pushing ID at some point, I mean you or someone you love could equally perish because of a patent on a physical device or copyright on a publication. There are many reasons to oppose biotech and software patents, this isn't actually one of them.

Re:I wish that he had written this earlier. (2, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997876)

Nothing like having someone who is proven to have no intellectual credibility take up a position that you agree with. This is an unfortunate one as well, because it directly affects drug and biotech firms, and they are all serious patent offenders with deep pockets. They'll tear him apart as a proven intellectual pimp, and it'll hurt the whole damn issue.

Crichton's popularity or lack thereof has more to do with the abysmal crap he's been writing than with his ridiculous stance on global warming...Did you read Prey? What a crapfest. The evil nanotech clouds are defeated by spraying them with a mysterious gunk infection that had somehow infiltrated into the cleanrooms where they were manufactured, but which, magically, didn't effect them when they're out roaming around in the fricking world.

He was great once, but it's been a long time.

Re:I wish that he had written this earlier. (1, Insightful)

IflyRC (956454) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998516)

Nothing like having someone who is proven to have no intellectual credibility take up a position that you agree with.

Are we speaking on Michael Crichton or Al Gore?

challanges "science gone wrong" (2, Interesting)

peter303 (12292) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998054)

Science doesn't always go haywire like a Crichton novel. But I think its a useful exercise to image unintended side-effects.

Re:I wish that he had written this earlier. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17998264)

Well, that's because, as Americans, we're a bunch of dullards created by marketing.

What a liberal education should have taught us, is that it's not the person, but the message. We need to stop and reason out if an idea is sound. Unfortunately, too many of us have lost sight of that: it's easy to be stupid after one graduates.

Re:I wish that he had written this earlier. (1)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998346)

I suspect that it will be easy for others to cast doubt on his arguments.

You mean how we can either have freely traded scientific knowledge, OR we can have a highly regulated medical industry to prevent bad medicine from making it to patients? We can't have it both ways. The state of the heavily regulated industry makes patents necessary for a drug company or medical devices company to not go bankrupt from trying to get their products approved.

Re:I wish that he had written this earlier. (1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998354)

It wasn't that the attacked global warming. It's that he attacked global warming with a ridiculously stupid book full of straw men and inane moralizing. He's got this anti-environmentalist chip on his shoulder which is completely at odds with the "don't play god" theme prevalent in many of his other books.

This is what I learned from State of Fear: mankind can't possibly be causing global warming, because nature is too good at achieving equilibrium for the whole of human industry to affect it. That's why a few dozen hippies with some mining equipment have to create tsunamis to make it seem real, utilizing the principle that nature is fragile and subtle changes can have widespread effects. Wait, what..?

Which reminds me of the other pet "debunking" of people like Crichton: all the Malthusian predictions of catastrophe caused by population explosion where chicken little nonsense, because the "green revolution" gave us the means to feed them all, and for that, the scientists are heroes for saving millions of lives, you know, because people would have otherwise starved (because of the population explosion).

Ah, the global warming guy (4, Insightful)

PIPBoy3000 (619296) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997608)

I'm not sure I'm too keen on Michael Crichton after his comments [wikipedia.org] about global warming. I don't think gene patents are a swell idea, but I'm not sure I'd hold up Crichton as an authority on scientific matters.

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (4, Interesting)

IflyRC (956454) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997692)

I'm personally glad he voiced his opinion on global warming. The sad fact that he is slowly being ostrasized for his differing viewpoint a black eye on the science community. Scientists should always question - if not, the world would still be flat.

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (5, Insightful)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997770)

Questioning is fine. He didn't question, he stated... and saying that global warming and other disasters are the cause of an evil environmentalist cabal isn't especially scientific.

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (1)

IflyRC (956454) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997894)

Ok, just like Al Gore has "stated" that what he believes as fact. Both sides are guilty of stating their hypothesis as fact even to the point that Dr. Heidi Cullen at the weather channel believes those in disagreement with her should have their AMS certifications removed. Strong arm tactics don't you think?

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (1)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998046)

How did Al Gore come into this? I know I didn't mention him. He's not even a scientist so I fail to see how it's even relevant?

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (1)

IflyRC (956454) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998174)

He came into it because he is currently the global warming champion. If you can think of someone else who has more face time in the national media and who's name is more synonomous with global warming please, feel free to mention them.

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (1)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998312)

I thought we were talking about scientists, not spokespeople. Sorry.

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (0)

IflyRC (956454) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998390)

My post included a scientist, not getting into a petty argument with you over the internet ;)

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (1)

PingSpike (947548) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998622)

I thought Crichton was a fiction author that talked a lot, not a scientist. Who are the scientists in this discussion?

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (3, Informative)

amabbi (570009) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998484)

Questioning is fine. He didn't question, he stated... and saying that global warming and other disasters are the cause of an evil environmentalist cabal isn't especially scientific.

You clearly did not read State of Fear. Without editorializing my opinion on global warming, what Crichton does is offer a case that global warming is not a slam-dunk scientific case as the media makes it out to be. He fashions what he admits is a fantasy tale involving conspiracy around this idea, but never... EVER.. does he state that global warming is complete fiction and environmental catastrophe is part of a conspiracy of maniacs.

He then states his opinion on global warming in the appendix, and provides references to support his beliefs. Some of it is compelling. The RealClimate people focus on one graph that he uses which utilizes an extrema of data points, and then justifies itself to complete bash the rest of his arguments. That certainly isn't scientific.

And so is bashing a man's opinions without reading his work.

Black eye, my ear. (4, Insightful)

Valdrax (32670) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998330)

The sad fact that he is slowly being ostrasized for his differing viewpoint a black eye on the science community.

Yeah, yeah, and it's real black eye on the scientific community that they aren't giving creationists and flat earthers a fair shake either.

Crichton's argument relied entirely on already disputed or disproven data, and furthermore he made wild, libelous accusations about the professional and ethical motives of climate scientists. Why exactly should anyone take seriously the arguments of a man who didn't do his research and calls you a member of a global conspiracy to hide "the truth?"

Re:Black eye, my ear. (1)

IflyRC (956454) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998460)

So, the detractors of global warming are lumped into the same category as creationists eh? I think that hammers home my original point. Thanks!

Re:Black eye, my ear. (1)

Miseph (979059) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998666)

The category of having scientific beliefs in direct contradiction to the mainstream?

Yeah, I'd say that creationists and anti-global warmingists(?) both fall into that same category.

What part of that proved any, let alone "your" point?

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (1)

ceejayoz (567949) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998508)

He's ostracised because his opinion is backed up by long-since refuted arguments.

Science has already questioned them and found them lacking. Unless you can point out errors or omissions in their refutations, why shouldn't they stand?

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17998540)

His "opinion"? What's opinion worth?

Anyone who works in a very technical field should understand the difference between specialist knowledge and general knowledge. Laymen simply cannot use their general knowledge in an intelligent way and expect to come to meaningful conclusions.

It's unfortunate that the general public simply has no choice but to rely on specialists to distinguish fact from fiction, but we've come a long way from the days of very simple scientific experiments that anyone can understand. Simply pretending that the opinion of a person without specialist training is valid gets us nowhere.

Consider evolution -- of all the tenets of modern science, few are as fully supported by the facts as evolution is. Yet many people in the general public believe there's some sort of controversy. They are wrong, plain and simple, because they don't have the capability to understand the science.

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (1)

sdnick (1025630) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997828)

I'm not sure I'm too keen on Michael Crichton after his comments about global warming. I don't think gene patents are a swell idea, but I'm not sure I'd hold up Crichton as an authority on scientific matters.

What do Crichton's comments on global warming have to do with the views he stated in this article, and how do they in any way affect the merits of his argument? Being "keen" on someone doesn't help or hurt their credibility - if anything, this helps make Crichton's point about global-warming-as-religion - don't trust the infidel!

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998038)

What do Crichton's past biased comments on global warming have to do with the fact that he's now opining about something else? He shot his credibility, and now he's taking a stance on an important issue which will now suffer for his participation.

I love how people like to talk about controversial, yet widely accepted scientific truths as "religions". See, when a scientist who has tons of documentation and has spent his whole life working on the case that people are causing climate change gets pissed off because a fiction writer "disproves" it all, putting the smack down on years of attempts to educate the public about the danger, it's because it's a "religion", not because someone is just shoveling a load of inaccurate crap.

On the other hand, when an actual religion gets slapped down for trying to get a load of inaccurate crap taught in schools, it's because science is "biased" and "unfair".

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (2, Informative)

sdnick (1025630) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998480)

What do Crichton's past biased comments on global warming have to do with the fact that he's now opining about something else? He shot his credibility, and now he's taking a stance on an important issue which will now suffer for his participation.

I don't pretend to know much about the issue, but I don't see how dissenting views and questions in science are a bad thing. How did Crichton's credibility (whatever that is) get "shot"? Were all or even most of Crichton's views on global warming proven wrong?

I love how people like to talk about controversial, yet widely accepted scientific truths as "religions". See, when a scientist who has tons of documentation and has spent his whole life working on the case that people are causing climate change gets pissed off because a fiction writer "disproves" it all

A fiction writer can't disprove science without doing or relying on science - if Crichton has a point, it's based on the work of other scientists who've spend their lives working on the same subject and have tons of documentation to back up their views. Real science can take rigorous examination and questioning - religion can't.

, putting the smack down on years of attempts to educate the public about the danger, it's because it's a "religion", not because someone is just shoveling a load of inaccurate crap.

If it's inaccurate crap, it should and will be disproven or shown to be unprovable, like the Intelligent Design nonsense. Attempting to shout down someone whose scientific views don't agree with yours is bad for science and has a proven track record of failure throughout history.

On the other hand, when an actual religion gets slapped down for trying to get a load of inaccurate crap taught in schools, it's because science is "biased" and "unfair".

I'm not even sure what you're talking about here - if you're referring to the Intelligent Design thing, obviously that's an attempt to introduce the concept of an unprovable and unverifiable Intelligent Designer into the science of evolution. If there are legitimate counter-claims to the global warming claims, they will be based on verifiable, repeatable research. Denying reality because you don't like it is not good science, no matter what side of the issue you currently find most persuasive.

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998612)

The thing is, he didn't have a counter argument, he didn't have any new research, he didn't have any explanations. All he did was go through some existing data, pull out anomolies, and highball predictions, and say, "See, this is all crap." He even made some pretty amatureish errors, like pointing out a few places on the globe where temperatures have been trending down, and calling that a counter argument! "Global Warming" is a popular name for this sort of climate change, but I don't think you'll find many scientists who would say that all temperatures are going up all the time, only that the global average is trending up.

I'm not wedded to global warming...It's like "Dark Matter"...I don't think they're right, but I think they're on to something, and I definitely think it merits more study. And I think Crichton, who may know something about medicine, but is hardly a climate specialist, and who produced a work that I found to be pretty substandard in support of what was clearly a personal bias based on nothing, intentionally skewed his fact reporting to make the data support his pet theory.

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (5, Insightful)

paeanblack (191171) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997852)

I'm not sure I'm too keen on Michael Crichton after his comments about global warming. I don't think gene patents are a swell idea, but I'm not sure I'd hold up Crichton as an authority on scientific matters.

Yes, because science works like a democracy. A bunch of us get together and vote on the laws of nature, and nature obeys. If you step out of line and promote a theory opposing "the consensus of the scientific community", then we burn you at the stake _and_ revoke your funding.

Trust us. It's better this way. Do you know how annoying it is when some uppity prick like Newton or Einstein comes along and claims that all the old theories are wrong? It really sucks when they manage to prove it, because the rest of us look like we're sitting there with our thumbs up our asses.

Global Warming is a celebrity field right now, and it will keep alot of us employed for a very long time. You can understand why we are a little protective of our sacred consensus, right?

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17998304)

Do you know how annoying it is when some uppity prick like Newton or Einstein comes along and claims that all the old theories are wrong?

Michael Crichton is not a Newton or an Einstein.

He's a novelist.

You might as well believe me, an AC posting to slashdot.

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (2, Insightful)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998036)

The merit of gene patents depends primarily on economics and ethics, not the science of genetics. I know it sounds like a nitpick, but it's a serious error to think that, because e.g. you are intimately familiar with monkey genes, you are more qualified to say whether patents on monkey genes would promote innovation.

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (1)

jcgf (688310) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998310)

You propose we listen to the economists and ethics professors who don't even know what genes are instead? No thanks.

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998492)

I propose we listen to people who understand the ethical and practical implications of various allocations of property rights and how to weigh the (often hidden) costs and benefits, rather than someone who thinks his scientific knowledge translates directly into that ability or who refuses to regard a pursuit other than his own field as more important.

Re:Ah, the global warming guy (1)

DuBois (105200) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998438)

I find it hilarious that the Slashdot "democracy" will support Crichton on the inadvisability of gene patents while casting aspersions on his scientific opinion regarding enviroreligiosity. [michaelcrichton.com] You can't have it both ways, guys and gals. Either the author of the TV ER series is a Hollywood kook, or he's a serious scientist and M.D. who has done his homework and knows what he's talking about.

Please RTFA (2, Funny)

walterwalter (777821) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997618)

In a State of Fear!

Compelling (5, Insightful)

modemboy (233342) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997630)

The most compelling argument for me was this:
"Countries that don't have gene patents actually offer better gene testing than we do, because when multiple labs are allowed to do testing, more mutations are discovered, leading to higher-quality tests."

Making an economic argument, that other countries will gain an advantage over us, is the only way to convince the people who actually have the power to change the situation.

Sounds like a good test case (1)

jfengel (409917) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997996)

The question is, will labs in those other countries do that research? Gene patents are supposed to be an economic incentive to do the work. The US pharmaceutical industry is one of the strongest in the world, and perhaps that can be attributed to its enforcement of the intellectual property laws.

So I'd like to see if other countries do in fact step up to the plate and make themselves rich. If that leads to a revamp of gene patent and other IP laws, so much the better.

Re:Compelling (1)

PhysicsPhil (880677) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998220)

The most compelling argument for me was this: "Countries that don't have gene patents actually offer better gene testing than we do, because when multiple labs are allowed to do testing, more mutations are discovered, leading to higher-quality tests."

Making an economic argument, that other countries will gain an advantage over us, is the only way to convince the people who actually have the power to change the situation.

This is a specious argument. The countries offering great gene testing are not doing the research to develop the tests, but rather using the fruits of research produced by countries that do have patent protection. Biological research is an expensive and time-consuming process; without some way to recoup costs, it just won't get done on the required scale.

Hey, I wrote a book about genetic stuff (4, Funny)

0racle (667029) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997640)

Hey this is genetics, I know this!

Re:Hey, I wrote a book about genetic stuff (1)

paulpach (798828) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998138)

That was only in the movie, no unix is mentioned in the book at all. The computers where running Hollywood OS [wikipedia.org] and the girl in the book was a boy.

The book was more of a collection of random thoughts about chaos theory and how pretentious we are about trying to control everything than about dinosaurs (YAWN). Steven Spielberg pulled a miracle, changed about 80% of what he read and turned the book into something actually worth watching. Giving credit/blame to Crichton about anything you saw in the movie requires quite a bit of salt.

Wish he had written this months ago... (1)

The-Bus (138060) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997702)

...and thereby saved me the tedium of having to read Next.

He already wrote a warning years ago. (1)

Valdrax (32670) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998422)

Wish he had written this months ago... ...and thereby saved me the tedium of having to read Next.

Personally, reading Sphere saved me the tedium of having to read Next (and pretty much all the other books he's written since the mid-90s).

it's simply absurd (5, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997706)

i don't think there is a better argument for prior art than that mother nature made it. but simply finding a gene in a fruit fly or an aneorbic bacterium is not ground to patent anything. and certainly simply finding a gene and elucidating its behavior in the human body is not grounds either. grounds for a nobel prize, but not grounds for exclusivity

obviously, not according to law, but obviously according to simple common sense

now, if in some future decade, scientists make a genetic sequence that has no similarity to anything in mother nature anywhere that is useful, i'd say they can patent that.... i said NO similiarity. it's not like you can change one base pair and claim you've done something novel right?

but patenting what already exists? is there no better example of greed undermining common sense? is there no greater absurdity in the relentless march of intellectual property law into insanity and evil in the name of the almighty buck?

ip law is important for rewarding creators and innovators. not researchers of what already exists. the reward for them is scientific, altruistic, academic, and intellectual. it's even rewarding financially, but not in the framework of patents

Re:it's simply absurd (1)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998078)

I agree.

I also don't want to get cancer or have to pay $0.01 per cell replication in my body because some dumb fuck decided to allow a patent on P53

I admit that's an extreme case, but it stands to reason if it's made all over the place, all the time, and has been for millenia, it shouldn't be patentable.

"fact of nature" (4, Informative)

l2718 (514756) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997712)

Actually, 35 USC 102 [cornell.edu] already limits patents to a "process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter". Facts of nature (such as the sequence of a gene) are not patentable -- though Congress in its infinite wisdon has declined to specificially add this to the law (as done in some countries). All that remains is for the court (that is, the CAFC [wikipedia.org] ) to actually care about the law.

Genetic inventions can be patented. (2, Informative)

Valdrax (32670) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998618)

You need to be more familiar with Supreme Court rulings:
Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 1980 [wikipedia.org]

All patents are bad (3, Insightful)

dada21 (163177) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997714)

Honestly, if you take this opinion further, you can see that all patents are bad -- when it comes to the general populace. Patents are a post-market solution to create scarcity of a supply of something. Scarcity is needed to increase the price per the supply/demand curve. By artificially making an item scarce, a higher demand will mean a higher price. Patents are uncompetitive, though, the absolute sole reason why certain monopolies exist.

Some will say that inventors won't invent without patents, but this is untrue if you look at the vast number of modern inventions that we use every day that have 10,000 parts that have expired patents and maybe 10-20 that are still patented. Look at cell phones -- each phone has some obscure patent pending, but the vast majority of phones are fairly identical, and yet there is still a HUGE market for phones. Why do inventors keep creating new phones if the majority of their parts are unprotected?

Some will say that drugs won't get invented, but if you look at the initial medical treatment market, we had doctors who actually wanted to help people by creating new drugs and allowing them to be manufacturered by others regardless of who invented it. Consider this: if you knew of 3 companies making the same new drug, who would you trust more? The company who spent years in clinical trials, showing you that their ingredients is safe, or the 2 companies who attempted to copy said drug through reverse engineering it -- possibly incorporating something unsafe? The same is true with any "invention" that isn't patented -- you decide what product you need based on the cost and the safety. Sometimes the less expensive product is less safe or less effective, something that isn't the case.

Gene patents are also ridiculous -- why should an artificial State-enforced monopoly be placed on something that obviously can be utilized better by a market of competitors. If you want to be cautious about your competition "stealing" your research, just start your own clinics that don't share their research with the open market. Call it DRM of genetic research -- don't share it with others, and the chance that they'll steal it is slim. For most companies, it would be more advantageous for them to purchase the information outright than try to "steal" it through corporate espionage. They can also work to develop their own solutions if they realize that you found a solution -- but that development will cost money and time, of course. Still, it would seem to be better for the public and all the various markets to have a competitive market for genetic research rather than a monopolistic one that keeps only a few companies in the top tier and the rest out of the business.

Re:All patents are bad (2, Insightful)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997806)

Why do inventors keep creating new phones if the majority of their parts are unprotected?

Most if not all phones are created by large multi-national corporations who can deal with patent lawsuits, but mostly deal with cross-licensing deals upon potential violations. This works out fine as MAD among those companies, but the small-time inventor has no such legal team or portfolio. Oddly, though he's the one patents help the most, he might also be the one to suffer the most, depending on the situation. One thing is for sure, if a small inventor can bring an idea to market in 5 years, without any IP protection, a big multi-national can take that idea, re-implement it and get it manufactured in Asia in time for Christmas. This isn't encouraging. Sorry, I don't have a solution to offer, just pointing out some of the pitfalls.

Re:All patents are bad (1)

dada21 (163177) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998018)

You're right, and thanks for that insight. Yet we see that the multinational corporations are more powerful BECAUSE of their ability to utilize patents to the fullest -- not to protect themselves, but to destroy competition.

How does the individual inventor find protection with a patent? Can the individual inventor afford to fight a multinational corporation if they "steal" his ideas? I doubt it. If you create something and I have more money and more legal power than you, how would you fight me? Chances are, you won't. The State prefers those who pander to them, not those who find loopholes in the system made to keep the big companies big and the little guys little and subservient to the big companies.

Re:All patents are bad (3, Informative)

WebHostingGuy (825421) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998106)

>>>Consider this: if you knew of 3 companies making the same new drug, who would you trust more? The company who spent years in clinical trials, showing you that their ingredients is safe, or the 2 companies who attempted to copy said drug through reverse engineering it -- possibly incorporating something unsafe?

This does not hold true. Today when a drug goes off patent the maker of the drug continues to sell the drug along with the generics (at close to the same price). Even though the generics do not have the same quality control as the maker of the drug generics are used instead because the cost is slightly lower. The cost is the only thing that matters to some HMOs and insurance plans. (And yes, there is a difference in manufacturing and quality control).

There is no brand loyalty for drugs because of the outside influence exerted by the insurance companies and pharmacies. Did you ever wonder why there are laws that say pharmacies can substitute a generic drug for a brand one? The end cost most of the time is exactly the same, however, generics sell the generic brand to pharmacies for a lower price than the brand name. So, when a pharmacy substitutes a generic for a name brand they pocket the difference in price while they bill the insurance company nearly the same as the brand name. That's the outside influence. So why doesn't the brand name drug just lower the price to the pharmacies? They usually can't because their manufacturing costs are higher because they have the quality control issues that generics generally don't. This is not to say generics don't care about quality control, but there are large differences.

Some patents are needed, period. Gene patents are not because I believe you should not be able to patent nature. It's a prior art thing. Just wait, someday God is going to come down and sue for his patents back.

Re:All patents are bad (1)

DuBois (105200) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998650)

Quality control, schmality control. Both original and generic manufacturers have to follow the exact same insane requirements put down by the FDA. The FDA audits the generics just as rigorously as the originals. The "original" manufacturers just have much higher overhead (TV advertising, etc.). Competition works, even though the original manufacturers would prefer that it didn't.

cheese and more cheese (1)

fluxindamix (804999) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997716)

"when someone you love, blah blah", I love it when a best seller writer writes like that, shows the true nature of why best selling stuff is not good for your mind. Important Stuff * Please try to keep posts on topic.

Look on the bright side... (5, Funny)

robably (1044462) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997722)

You, or someone you love, may die because of a gene patent that should never have been granted in the first place.
On the other hand, it could be someone you really hate. It all evens out.

Not just bad, but plain wrong. (5, Insightful)

tygerstripes (832644) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997738)

Genetic code is surely the biggest case of Prior Art going. Fine, you can patent a light-bulb, but you can't patent Electricity just because you discovered roughly what it was and how it worked!

Genes are usually discovered, not invented. Most genetic treatment involves finding out what a gene is, how it works, and how it goes wrong. That's hardly a creative invention, is it?

Doesn't have to be creative (1)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998598)

If you experiment with an industrial process for months or years, spending money exploring blind alleys to find the one right combination of pressures and temperatures reaction times, you've done nothing "creative" but it's an investment that patents are meant to protect. Your work is a contribution to the "useful arts".

Should discovery be treated the same way? The answer came out "yes" in the case of patents for plants [about.com] , so there is at least precedent.

The case against is that the government shouldn't grant monopolies unless there's proof of a market failure happening if they don't. Since people were busy discovering genes even without patent protection, well, ...

from his book, "Next" (4, Informative)

Red Herring (47817) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997762)

This is largely based on his book "Next", a pretty darn good novel based on what can go wrong when bio-patenting is taken to an extreme. Good book.

Re:from his book, "Next" (1)

insert337 (948671) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997904)

I Agree. I read Next about a month ago..Very good book..Makes you really think if that really happens then we will be in a shit creek!

Re:from his book, "Next" (1)

MozillaMike (889339) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998142)

Sure the book "Next" was how bio-patenting went wrong, and "Timeline" was how time travel went wrong, and "Congo" was how monkeys went wrong and "Jurrasic Park" and "Lost world" were how dinosaurs went wrong....

State of Fear == book of silly (1)

hey (83763) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997768)

I have liked Crichton's work for a long time but State of Fear was soo stupid
I can never read him again. It all about dening global warming which is a bit nuts but
the worst thing: it was a really silly story. The characters are so flat and their motivations
make no sense. Then there is the guy who is obviously there to give Crichton point of view.
And does he ever - about 99 times. OK, I get it! But then there is an afterword of "fact"
which goes on about the very same points. Yes we heard you the first zillion times.
Very unsubtle and not convincing.

spoiler warning (1)

s-gen (890660) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998124)

Yeah, and the character who listened and learned from the POV character escaped all kinds of near-death nonsense and scored a higher quality GF to boot, whereas the character who did not listen or learn ended up eaten by cannibals pretty much on his first scrape.

Simple solution: (1, Funny)

PFI_Optix (936301) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997772)

A law stating that any genetic pattern found to exist in any natural organism cannot be patented. If the pattern is patented and then found in nature, it is immediately voided.

I don't want to get hit for patent infringement because I decided to have kids and just happen to possess a genetic pattern someone claims to own...and don't think they wouldn't do it if they could.

Re:Simple solution: (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998374)

Our lawyers would like to discuss with you further on your unauthorized reproduction of our intellectual property.

In the meantime please be aware that Augmented Genetics Technology Corp owns your first-born (and any of your future progeny).

You should have read the EULA before you got that "super enhancer" DNA treatment.

You swear you never went for that treatment? Yeah right, you must have gone to some Pirate clinic for illegal treatment.

You claim it must have been some viral infection you caught that somehow altered your DNA?

Yeah right, that never happens (even though we do use viruses as part of the treatment to insert the new DNA, the viruses have been crippled and will _never_ spread).

Why should we listen to this guy, you ask. (5, Informative)

techstar25 (556988) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997784)

The article summary should have at least mentioned his M.D. Some background info on him from Wikipedia:
He attended Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts as an undergraduate, graduating summa cum laude in 1964. Crichton was also initiated into the honors organization Phi Beta Kappa. He went on to become the Henry Russell Shaw Travelling Fellow, 1964-65 and Visiting Lecturer in Anthropology at Cambridge University, England, 1965. He graduated at Harvard Medical School, gaining an M.D. in 1969 and did post-doctoral fellowship study at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California, in 1969-1970.

Re:Why should we listen to this guy, you ask. (1, Insightful)

geoffspear (692508) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998088)

That's nice. If I can find someone else who graduated from Harvard Medical School who disagrees with him on any given point, will that make the Universe implode in a logical paradox, since they've come up with some sort of way to make all of their graduates completely infallible?

Re:Why should we listen to this guy, you ask. (2, Insightful)

theripper (123078) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998524)

No, but it would lend him a bit more credibility then if he were just some fiction writer.

Gene patents, I was using that (1)

RichMan (8097) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997812)

So most gene patents involve finding a gene that is already out there and patenting it.

Um, was that gene not already in existance, and already performing its function.

It is not a new invention. It is not a new application.

In many cases there are thousands, millions or even billions of people/things with that gene in billions of cells eash cell using it every day for the function in which it was patented.

How do these things qualify for patents?

To me it is like patenting gravity. Then applying it to moving water. It is a natural process.

Re:Gene patents, I was using that (1)

geoffspear (692508) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998164)

Plant patents work the same way. If you discover a new plant in an uncultivated state and asexually reproduce it, you can get exclusive rights to it for 20 years. Is this completely ridiculous? Sure. But it's the law in the US.

Gene Patents are bad.. (1)

EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997832)

Open source your gene research, or else someone might steal your dinosaur embryos and ruin Jurassic Park.

Indeed (2, Interesting)

physicsboy500 (645835) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997840)

Man I hate to agree with Mike but...


I just started work as a patent officer and while I don't deal with any genetic-related patents I did wonder why this field was around. Sure it's great that people can protect their ideas but when it comes down to it, a patent is nothing but a legal 20 year monopoly. How would you like to know that someone you loved and cared about died because a very underdeveloped company didn't have the R&D finances to back a mass-market production and the idea the patent was founded around died for 20 years. I do agree that the company should be given some time to themselves to try and take off with the idea, but I think a much shorter time frame would assure that if that company does not have the resources, the true life-saving ideas will still soon hit market.

sadfase (3, Interesting)

zyl0x (987342) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997842)

Sadly, we're living in the kind of society where celebrities need to tell us these sorts of things are bad.

patents, copyright ... currently are corrupt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17997848)

lets be honest, corporations have exerted undue influence to the degree that the patent process has become both ineffective and immoral

lets be even more honest, most people don't care

Repetition (0, Offtopic)

MrSteveSD (801820) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997890)

Sort of off topic I know, but how does Michael Crichton manage to get away with witting the same story again and again? i.e. We develop some cool piece of technology, then it all goes horribly wrong because we don't really know what we're doing.

Westworld - Our theme-park androids go haywire and kill us.
Jurassic Park - Our Genetically engineered Dinosaurs go out of control and kill us.
Runaway - Tom Selleck battles crazy Robot things. Again, our own inventions go bad.
Prey - Our Nanotechnology goes haywire

Feel free to add to the list.

Repetitiousness (0, Offtopic)

kahei (466208) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998094)


I realize this isn't wholly relevant, but how does Michael Crichton manage to get away with just rehashing the same basic narrative over and over? e.g. We create some cool technological artifact and then disaster ensues because we don't truly understand our own actions.

Westworld -- Theme-park robots freak out and slaughter humans.
Jurassic Park -- Genetically engineered dinosaurs run amuck
Running Man -- Arnie battles mad mechanical men. Again, our own creations turn evil.
This Post -- It starts off amusing but quickly gets old. Or does it?

Feel free to append more stuff to this collection.

Re:Repetition (1)

Langalf (557561) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998228)

Sort of off topic I know, but how does Michael Crichton manage to get away with witting the same story again and again? i.e. We develop some cool piece of technology, then it all goes horribly wrong because we don't really know what we're doing.

The same could be said (and has been) for science fiction in general. There are only so many unique plot devices in science fiction, and all of them were used by either Jules Verne or H.G. Wells a hundred years ago.

epW2.. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17997986)

Of *BSD asswI4es

Gene patents only? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17997990)

Others have written far more extensively about patents in general. Most of what is mentioned applies to all patents. Many, including me, believe that any claimed benefits of patents far exceed the damage that they actually do. There is no capitalism when one can monopolize an idea.

Just to be clear on this... (5, Interesting)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998040)

When Michael Crichton writes a novel on global warming, he's an ignorant sensationalist.

When Michael Crichton writes an op-ed piece on gene patents, he's insightful and informed.

Just checking.

Re:Just to be clear on this... (1)

Luthair (847766) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998646)

Just because Hitler had an enormous number of bad ideas doesn't mean that the VW Bug was one of them.

Do something about it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17998068)

It's nice to see that people care about this issue as it is fairly significant. Now let's make sure that our voice is heard by pestering those who represent us in Congress. The bill the article talks about is H.R. 977 [loc.gov] . It is currently in the hands of the Committee on the Judiciary [house.gov] . Finally, go to Congress.org [congress.org] , find out who your representatives are, and let them know your concerns with regards to this bill.

If you agree with this article (1)

brewstate (1018558) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998114)

Those of you who agree with this stance or disagree should contact your local representatives and help stimulate them to back or not back the proposed bill. I haven't read the bill and am basing this statement on the assumption that if this bill helps fight stupidity in the patent system it may get the ball rolling for medical patents and even other patent areas. Also it is a bit frightening to think that someone owns a gene that may be found in my body. Thanks

Grain of salt... (1)

jpellino (202698) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998160)

Michael is a gifted writer. However this needs to be see in a light that includes :

(1) he has a new book out about it, so this is prolly a junket piece
(2) he wrote "State of Fear" as a novel and further believes it reflects a sensible attitude
(3) he wrote this: http://www.michaelcrichton.net/features/spoonbendi ng.html [michaelcrichton.net] and believes it.

Interestingly according to WHO, there were 4000+ SARS cases, 252 died, 2000+ recovered, apparently ~1500 fell off the planet.

I spy with my little eye (1)

DumbSwede (521261) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998190)

If binoculars had never been invented I would say patenting them is fine, but given binoculars it seems absurd to be able to patent everything seen through them for the first time.

If I am afflicted by a patented disease..... (1)

SomeoneGotMyNick (200685) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998234)

FTFA:

why should people or companies own a disease in the first place? They didn't invent it.

I'll sue the bastards who 'own' the disease for the effect it had on civilization.

Um, Prior Art? (1)

thepropain (851312) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998250)

If the patents are on the genes themselves, and a significant enough portion of the population carries the genes (i.e. enough to merit a study), then wouldn't the DNA of everyone who carries said genes qualify as prior art and thus be grounds for patent revocation? Kinda puts an interesting spin on the phrase "Cost of Living"...

mo3 up (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17998320)

Be a lot sloGwer resulted in the fIt's best to try

Scientific Inquisistion (1)

huckamania (533052) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998392)

Sorry Mike, but since you challenged the Global Warming Apocalypse you will have to be strung up on the rack and anything you say will be considered heresy. After all, how can 90% of climatologists ever be wrong about anything?

/. Help Needed... (2, Interesting)

LeDopore (898286) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998394)

At the danger of being modded O/T, I'm going to post some of the research I did regarding medical patents in general.

I'm against patents for medical technology, because the incentives to the drug companies barely match the desires of the patients. As I recently showed in my blog [blogspot.com] , only 14% of drug revenue goes towards R & D, half of this 14% is wasted by looking for new drugs which don't treat diseases better than old ones (but are patentable, hence profitable), and the remaining 7% funds research skewed towards untested, patentable treatments even if well-known drugs might do as good or better a job. We've set up incentives for drug companies to find patentable tech they can then market to us. I think we need an entirely new incentive system, and I think we can do it and still have a free-market-friendly environment for research companies.

In this blog post [blogspot.com] , I outline a way for drug companies to get rewarded based on how much good their research does for humanity, using an Mprise [mprize.org] -like system. Companies would get rewards proportional to how much better their treatment was shown to be over the current best treatment.

I have some ideas on how to implement this system so that everybody wins (yes - everybody - don't forget the parable of the broken window [wikipedia.org] ), but I would love some input from /.ers to help refine the details. You're always good at spotting holes in arguments, and I'd love to find them to see if they can be plugged.

Thanks!

Imagine if the fundamentalist Right patented AIDS (1)

Rexifer (81021) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998614)

... in the 80's when it was viewed as a sinner's disease, and prevented any research from happening and blocked any possible treatment that infringed on "their" patent. Patents used for political purposes scare the piss out of me, even as a defensive countermeasure against lawsuits (the corporate equivalent of Mutually-Assured Destruction: If you sue me for A, I'll sue you for B, C, and D...)
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