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Venter Institute Claims Patent on Synthetic Life

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the we-made-you-we-can-unmake-you dept.

Biotech 163

jimsnail writes "J. Craig Venter and the Institute that bears his name are again moving into new territory in the field of genetics. Genetic patents, that is. They are seeking a broad patent that would give them ownership of a 'free living organism that can grow and replicate' constructed entirely from synthetic DNA. The ETC Group is challenging the claim. 'Scientists at the institute designed the bacterium to have a "minimal genome"--the smallest set of genes any organism can live on. The project, which began in the early 2000s, was partly a philosophical exercise: to help define life itself better by identifying its bare-bones requirements. But it was also fraught with commercial possibilities: if one could reliably recreate a standardized, minimal life form, other useful genes could be added in as needed for various purposes.'"

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That's okay (2, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 7 years ago | (#19428781)

I just patented DNA replication. That's right. J. Craig Vetner, along with everyone else here, must pay up now, be sued, or die.

Re:That's okay (4, Funny)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429037)

Soviet Russia called to collect their patent dues. They just patented YOU!

Idea ownership (you have heard all this before) (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19429103)

Patents are a means of preventing people from making productive use of the technology and information available to them. This creates artificial scarcity, which ultimately makes a lot of money for a very few people. It also technologically and practically impoverishes the rest of the world (by preventing collaboration and also production).

I am very familiar with the economic arguments about needing to secure a return on investment, and they are bunk. The most glaring part of it is the fallacy of excluded middle (or slippery slope), stated: "If a company can't guarantee that it makes all the money that there is to be made on this idea, and that nobody else makes any money on it, then the company won't be able to make any money at all on it." Lies...there is plenty of money to be made selling a product in the face of competition...in fact our whole economy is built around the need for this.

On top of that...where there is a demand there is a supply. For example, if people need some disease cured, but no drug company wants to invest the RnD funding to make medicine for it...which is unlikely...but even if it does happen money can also come from private donations and government grants. One way or another, the problems will be solved, and patents are not needed.

So, IMO, patents give us nothing of value and deprive us of the ability to work together and to make productive use of the information available to us.

Thought control is bad.

Re:That's okay (DNA) (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429379)

I just patented DNA replication.

Did I mention I patented the GATC encoding scheme as a business process?

Don't tell anyone, but I'm working on some improvements using mRNA, sRNA, and other fun things that let me express many different proteins from the same DNA chain.

I'd ask to digest this information, but I just patented that, so hold that thought.

Oh, and since thought is a biochemical process, you owe me royalties on that one too.

Re:That's okay (DNA) (2, Funny)

IgLou (732042) | more than 7 years ago | (#19430073)

HA! I one upped you! I patented RNAML a markup language used to model RNA and DNAML and anything like it. You'll all screwed as you can no longer describe what you want to patent.

MUHAHAHAHAHA! MUHAHAHAHA!

Evil genius is me!

Gerbluh? (5, Insightful)

AdmiralWeirdbeard (832807) | more than 7 years ago | (#19428795)

Uh, doesnt that seem rather overbroad? I mean, there's nothing about methodology, just 'we own any synthetic life.' What utter bullshit. Why dont they try to patent nonsynthetic life while they're at it?

Re:Gerbluh? (4, Insightful)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#19428969)

It's not much different from "we own anything that results in being able to make an online purchase via one click."

Re:Gerbluh? (1)

mentaldingo (967181) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429077)

No. It'd be more like "We own anything online."

Re:Gerbluh? (2, Insightful)

AdmiralWeirdbeard (832807) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429167)

I feel like there should be some bad chat/leet speak in there though, to really hammer home how stupid of an idea it is.

like, "We OWNz teH tUbes!!!!1!" or something.

At the very least this fails obviousness test until they have methodology. Like they were the first people ever to have the idea to make a synthetic organism that reproduces and propagates itself through a genetic code. Given that's how natural life works, seems like a bit of a no brainer.

I hope the patent is rejected with a "DUrrrrrr" stamp on it.

Not patenting all life... (4, Insightful)

PhysicsPhil (880677) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429173)

From the article: "The researchers filed their patent claim on the artificial organism and on its genome."

These guys have created a brand new form of life from the ground up and are patenting their particular genome. It's hard work, and certainly not obvious or trivial. Given that other biological systems are patentable (e.g., the Harvard mouse, new strains of wheat), this certainly seems to clear the bar for patentability.

Re:Not patenting all life... (5, Insightful)

AdmiralWeirdbeard (832807) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429237)

Granted, however it reads as though it seeks to cover any and all future synthetic life as well. By defining terms in such a broad fashion, they leave little room for others to follow, regardless of methodology. And that's bullcrap.

Re:Not patenting all life... (3, Informative)

DRJlaw (946416) | more than 7 years ago | (#19430051)

Granted, however it reads as though it seeks to cover any and all future synthetic life as well.... And that's bullcrap.

No it does not. It reads as follows:

Claim 1. A set of protein-coding genes that provides the information required for growth and replication of a free-living organism under axenic conditions in a rich bacterial culture medium, wherein the set lacks at least 40 of the 101 protein-coding genes listed in Table 2, or functional equivalents thereof, wherein at least one of the genes in Table 4 is among the lacking genes; wherein the set comprises between 350 and 381 of the 381 protein-coding genes listed in Table 3, or functional equivalents thereof, including at least one of the genes in Table 5; and wherein the set comprises no more than 450 protein-coding genes.

Claims 2-28 are all narrower than claim 1, and include the limitations in claim 1. Very little else in the application matters unless it serves to clarify the meaning of this claim (setting aside statutory subject matter, 35 U.S.C. 101, or description, enablement, and best mode issues, 35 U.S.C. 112).

Therefore if your organism lacks only 39 of the "101 protein-coding genes listed in Table 2" you do not infringe. If your organism has less than 350 of the "381 protein-coding genes listed in Table 3" you do not infringe. If your organism has 451 or more protein-coding genes, you do not infringe.

If you do not know the mere basics of patent law, your thoughts concerning the scope of someone's patent or patent application are "bullcrap."

The patent madness (2, Interesting)

Esteanil (710082) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429331)

Uh, doesnt that seem rather overbroad?
It's interesting, really. Both the US and the EU patent offices are more than happy to give out patents that are *way* overbroad.
Presumably, this is a part of the transition to an "IP economy", and they've been instructed to keep lower standards as to make sure most of the IP cake has been divided before the international competition becomes too rough.
And then they use heavy-handed tactics to force other countries to submit, misusing the Berne convention [wikipedia.org] and the WTO, forcing the world to implement patent and copyright law that doesn't reflect the original intentions behind patents and copyright at all.

Patents and copyright as they have become does no longer serve the interests of society, nor even the long-term interests of the companies that gain them.
It's been said before, but I can't seem to find the original quote, that the emergence of the Internet wouldn't have been possible if patents had been used then as it is today. What other emerging markets are we closing down with these overbroad patents? What does this madness really cost us? There's no way we can know.

Of course, the harder they tighten their grip, the more nations will start slipping through their fingers :-)
I wonder when the first real copyright/patent/data havens show up. Imagine the advantages companies located within such a nation would get. Of course, they would be unlikely to be allowed to sell their wares on the open market, but the citizens within this country could possibly rise to a much higher standard of living, and of course smuggling would be extremely lucrative...

Re:The patent madness (1)

BalanceOfJudgement (962905) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429891)

What does this madness really cost us?


The future. In a world where nobody is free to innovate, develop, invent, produce, or brainstorm, there is only one inevitable result: stagnation.

Patent for Air (1)

queenb**ch (446380) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429339)

I've filed my patent for the inert gas we know as air. If they want to be able to breathe, they'll have to license their patent to me in exchange for using my patented product.

2 cents,

QueenB.

Is that what they're patenting? (1)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429349)

It sounds to me like they are patenting a specific organism, not the concept of building one from scratch. I could be wrong about that, but that's how I read it. While it it is derived from a natural organism with much stuff removed, it seems more palatable to me than patenting regular food with one or two features added. I don't like either practice, but this seems less bad than what Monsanto is doing.

If they are patenting the "organism from scratch" concept, then the problem doesn't seem to be ethical, it's that people are upset that they'll be locked out of a new field for 20 years. Those don't come along very often, but they do come along and people do get patents on them. The one very far reaching one that comes to my mind is the one on controlling an airplane. Sure, the guys had a lock on a revolutionary new industry for some time. Then like all good "IP" it expired.

Re:Gerbluh? (1)

pll178 (544842) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429469)

It is not overbroad. Read the claims to the patent cited in a post below. They are claiming something very specific.

Re:Gerbluh? (1)

NearlyHeadless (110901) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429547)

Uh, doesnt that seem rather overbroad? I mean, there's nothing about methodology, just 'we own any synthetic life.' What utter bullshit. Why dont they try to patent nonsynthetic life while they're at it?


The patent application [uspto.gov] looks pretty specific to me, actually.

this is sick (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19428809)

You can't hug your children with synthetic DNA arms!

Re:this is sick (1)

danbert8 (1024253) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429175)

Won't someone pleeeaaaaaassssssseee think of the children?!?!?!?!?

Re:this is sick (1)

InfiniteSingularity (1095799) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429733)

"You can't hug your children with synthetic DNA arms!"


Tell that to someone that lost one or both arms in an accident/birth defect/war/etc. Those new arms may be the best hug that kid ever had.

Re:this is sick (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19430285)

"You are playing God!"

"Someone has to!"

Great (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#19428817)

now hold the responsible for anything that happens from any synthetic life. Lets see how fast the back peddle.

Re:Great (1)

stjobe (78285) | more than 7 years ago | (#19428873)

Here you go: m y
You're welcome!

Yeah. (1)

RealProgrammer (723725) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429019)

I mean, these synthetics have got to be smart enough to run for Congress, or do other jobs humans won't do.

Patents on Living Things are Absurd. (1)

twitter (104583) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429979)

now hold them responsible for anything that happens from any synthetic life. Lets see how fast the back peddle.

They are already responsible for that. Everyone is responsible for the consequences of their actions.

There are fundamental problems patenting life. Life replicates itself, life is not an invention and human life should never be owned.

Patents work by keeping people from making the patented article. Applying a patent to an article which reproduces itself is silly. Anyone who owns such an object will be violating the patent. I could make up some reasoning around this, but it would put the created rights of the patent above the natural rights of the owner.

Genetic sequences, no matter how clever, are discoveries not inventions. In order to qualify as an invention, the patent applicant should be made to prove that their particular sequence does not and never has existed in nature. The impossibility of the task highlights the absurdity of the patent itself.

Finally, if genetic sequences can be patented parts of you and me are owned by the patent holder. In the limit, a company could patent a human being, which is obviously wrong.

Goatse! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19428833)

Goatse! [goatse.cz]

Whoever designed world-science.net (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19428841)

Needs to be culled from the gene pool.

ID theory to the rescue (5, Funny)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 7 years ago | (#19428881)

If God (or someone else) did truly intelligently design life, that would mean all life forms are synthetic. Hence, prior art exists.

Did I just discover a scientifically *useful* application of ID wack-theory? If so, is the universe going to implode, or am I about to be flamed to fiery hell by people who never evolved a sarcasmeter?

Re:ID theory to the rescue (1)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#19428947)

If nothing else, I think Xenu [wikipedia.org] can claim prior art on this one.

Re:ID theory to the rescue (1)

AnonymousCactus (810364) | more than 7 years ago | (#19428975)

This is great.
Either you get the politicos to agree and patents like this are made void, or you get them to admit ID is crap. Either way, nerds win!
Oh wait, we've made the common flawed assumption: People reason logically.

Re:ID theory to the rescue (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19429011)

I'd still reference The Bible as prior art when disputing the patent.

Re:ID theory to the rescue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19429047)

You might as well head for pride, soon youll be flaming.

Re:ID theory to the rescue (1)

just_another_sean (919159) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429073)

Flame On!

</sarcasm>

Re:ID theory to the rescue (1)

incer (1071224) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429115)

I wonder if I can license my DNA under the GPL. Do I have to attach license.txt or can I link to the GNU website?

Re:ID theory to the rescue (1)

rustalot42684 (1055008) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429353)

No, you just need to encode it as part of the sequence.

personal genome patents? (1)

jefu (53450) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429393)

Perhaps everyone should patent their own genomes. (Would the lack of having the actual sequence be a problem for the patent office? Hard to believe.) Then everyone could sue everyone else for infringing.

Re:ID theory to the rescue (1)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429975)

As long as you provide the source code (?) when you spread your seed?

You'll have to give those dna spectrum pictures to those dirty girls you visit. They'll be like WTF is this?

Re:ID theory to the rescue (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429859)

Just writing down speculation on creating life should be enough, shouldn't it? I mean, it has to be non-obvious and the current test for that is whether or not they wrote it down at some point. How does the bible not destroy this patent, much less the ridiculous amount of speculation on being able to create life with biology. This patent's dead in the water unless their methodology gets around that.

Didn't they try this in the past? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19428945)

... you know... slavery. Lol, I keeed, I keeed. But if they do make sentient synthetic life in the future...

Sorry, you were patented.... (3, Funny)

PortHaven (242123) | more than 7 years ago | (#19428979)

Sorry, you were patented....please pay $xx,xxx.xx in order to continue living!

Re:Sorry, you were patented.... (2, Funny)

Mistlefoot (636417) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429275)

We do pay $xx,xxx.xx to continue living. It's called taxes. Or at least we do in Canada. In 2000 per the Fraser Institute the average family paid $25,000/year.

source
http://oldfraser.lexi.net/media/media_releases/200 1/20010613.html

Re:Sorry, you were patented.... (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429509)

Canada. In 2000 per the Fraser Institute the average family paid $25,000/year.
Suckers! Why not just let your government borrow all the money it wants from China? The negative economic consequences are delayed, therefore they don't count. It's foolproof!

Re:Sorry, you were patented.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19430065)

That's Canadian dollars, right? What is that in real money? About $15-$20 or so, right?

Re:Sorry, you were patented.... (2, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#19430169)

That's Canadian dollars, right? What is that in real money? About $15-$20 or so, right?
I'm afraid you're way behind the times! I did mention some delayed consequences of US borrowing, right? Check out this graph [yahoo.com] : the Canadian dollar is now within spitting distance of the mighty USD - from a 60% difference to a 6% difference in just over 4 years!

Re:Sorry, you were patented.... (1)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429285)

And dont forget my pay expiration fee now that I have patented Death.

In related news... (1)

fohat (168135) | more than 7 years ago | (#19428981)

The institute has also purchased Ventnor Ave. and is in the process of putting up several pricey Hotels. A sign in the front window of the first reads, "No Shoes, No hat, No service." The local dog could not be reached for comment and the car was in jail at the time.

Drunk man's interpretation (1)

packetmon (977047) | more than 7 years ago | (#19428985)

My god. I can't believe they went ahead and patented sperm from someone who's been *hiccup* drinking and using Viagra

Silly (1)

Zironic (1112127) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429003)

This reminds me of the story of the person that tried to patent boiling water, no one had done it before so it was worth a try wasn't it?

If anyone at the patent office lets this pass he/she should get whacked with the giant hammer of reason. You can't go around getting patents for entire fields of science.

USPTO application text (4, Informative)

stjobe (78285) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429017)

Here's [uspto.gov] the patent application.

Re:USPTO application text (1)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429857)

Prior art.. von Neumann?

Tax money was spent on this project (1)

SpaceLifeForm (228190) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429881)

[0002] Aspects of this invention were made with government support (DOE grant number DE-FG02-02ER63453). The government has certain rights in the invention.

For that reason alone, it should not be patentable.

Re:USPTO application text (1, Interesting)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429999)

Congratulations on attempting to insert sanity into this slashdot "discussion". The patent, obviously, lists exactly the genes it intends to use, and as such, is quite difficult to duplicate.

If this is really the minimal set (which seems kind of unlikely), I would even call it a huge accomplishment.

Anyway this patent seems to be exactly what a patent was meant to do. It describes a complex invention, and it describes it in a very detailed way. I don't see anything wrong with it. This is the biological version of a machine design. Ok it's the description of a near universal machine (if a bit complex to program), but it seems to me a very good patent.

Exactly the sort of thing you'd want a patent to be.

But don't let sanity prevent you from getting your panties in a knot.

heh (3, Funny)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429059)

ok then I'll patent a critical gene that this guy has in his DNA and pull a MAFIAA on him if he reproduces. then have genes renamed "files" and if he ever tries to hire a hooker it'll be illegal file sharing :)

Hmm... (1, Funny)

Mockylock (1087585) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429065)

Who owns the patent on life in southern West Virginia?

I've been there a few times, and there are quite a few living on the minimum requirements for gene usage.

Re:Hmm... (1)

lastchance_000 (847415) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429227)

Well, you could patent intelligent life there, as there's no prior art...

Mixed Reaction (2, Interesting)

jefu (53450) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429069)

My reaction to this is mixed. First, I'm suspicious of this kind of sweeping patent protection in general. And it is far from clear (in the cited article at least) that they actually have such a genome yet, so patent protection seems strange. "We think we are going to do this, so grant us a patent."

On the other hand it may take 20 years or so to actually be able to use this kind of technology in meaningful ways (and have drugs produced this way approved by the government). So granting patent protection now means that it would expire just about the time that people might be able to take advantage of it.

On the other other hand, if they really are patenting the idea, they'll probably re-patent (or extend the patent with new claims or however that works) any usable variation when they actually get it so they're likely to find ways to stretch such patent protection out for quite a while.

Re:Mixed Reaction (1)

Kristoph (242780) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429641)

The issue is that the patent can be interpret to include any organisms that lacks the genes they have identified as non-essential to life.

It's not just an issue of drugs. It's also for the manufacturing opportunities that this offers. One example would be a organism that cheaply creates ethanol or hydrogen from biomass.

]{

Re:Mixed Reaction (2, Interesting)

ciroknight (601098) | more than 7 years ago | (#19430337)

Well, the patent is pretty clear about what it's "inventing". They state they take the Mycoplasma genitalium bacteria (which is the smallest discovered natural free-living bacteria), and then strip out about 101 genes (which they list in a table), leaving 381 genes plus or minus a 3 or 4 genes.

The question is, have they actually made this bacteria, and does it actually live, reproduce and die like a bacteria should? At this point it's not clear they invented anything, more than just taking a bacteria, removing some genes and patenting the result (which they could theoretically do indefinitely until they find some combination that works). Furthermore, it's not clear they're actually inventing anything at all, but rather optimizing the organism by removing defective/defunct versions of other genes (essentially stripping the whitespace, which might actually be a bad thing; one of the reasons DNA is durable is entron regions, DNA that can be damaged or mutate without affecting the organism).

The linked article says they've half-way succeeded creating this thing (55 of 101 possible knock-outs yields a living result). Is that enough grounds to allow this to be patented? It's not up to me to say, but it's an interesting question.

I claim prior art. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19429113)

I claim prior art. God.

Just a quick flash idea... (1)

writermike (57327) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429123)

Would someone out there with time please recreate the badger-badger/mushroom-mushroom flash animation with the following:

(badgers, badgers, badgers becomes) patents, patents, patents
(mushroom, mushroom becomes) lawsuit, lawsuit
(snake part goes) Out-of Court settlement! Settlement ... settlement... settllllment

Etc.

Thanks. I have no skills.

Cheers,

Mike...

The future is not bright... (2, Interesting)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429143)

Karen Travis SF books [wordpress.com] about a future Earth where all life has been patented and copyrighted to the point that it's illegal to have unaltered seeds is starting to become true.

British already did it... (1)

C10H14N2 (640033) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429397)

They tried to make boiling sea water illegal. Lost a bit of real estate in that move, they did...

Title is wrong, or at best misleading. (5, Informative)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429183)

Venter isn't claiming a patent on the entire concept of synthetic life, he's claiming a patent on A synthetic life form. As the article says, patents on genetically modified life forms aren't anything new. What's new is this is a life form created entirely from scratch (or at least as much from scratch as you can get when you already know how other life works).

Re:Title is wrong, or at best misleading. (1)

qw0ntum (831414) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429407)

What stops this particular organism from naturally coming into being through good ol' evolution? Even if this exact organism does not, what is to stop other, more complex "synthetic life forms" from naturally coming into being? I pity the fool who gets sued for infringement over some "synthetic life patent": "Take him down, he's got an identical bacteria to our synthetic one in his intestine! He must be breeding them for commercial purposes!"

It's happened before if I remember correctly (see Monsanto GM seed).

What seems better than patenting a particular life form would be to patent an application of it. Kind of like how you don't patent the iron atom when you patent a hammer. Oops, better not give anyone any ideas...

Re:Title is wrong, or at best misleading. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19429567)

What stops this particular organism from naturally coming into being through good ol' evolution?...I pity the fool who gets sued for infringement over some "synthetic life patent": "Take him down, he's got an identical bacteria to our synthetic one in his intestine!

That's like saying "What if you're born with a pattern of freckles that spells out the text of The Da Vinci Code?" The sun will die out before it happens.

Re:Title is wrong, or at best misleading. (1)

keytoe (91531) | more than 7 years ago | (#19430103)

That's like saying "What if you're born with a pattern of freckles that spells out the text of The Da Vinci Code?"
Please - you give the book too much credit.

Re:Title is wrong, or at best misleading. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19429967)

It's happened before if I remember correctly (see Monsanto GM seed).

You're likely referring to incidents where GM crops have "infected" nearby non-GM crops, and Monsanto subsequently has tried to get the unwilling new farmer of GM-crops to pay for the "privilege".

It seems exceedingly unlikely that crops would spontaneously mutate to match Monsanto's designs exactly, as a sibling post points out.

Re:Title is wrong, or at best misleading. (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429985)

As far as I see it it is still just the patent of a broad idea which has a LOT of prior art for that idea.

Re:Title is wrong, or at best misleading. (1)

Poromenos1 (830658) | more than 7 years ago | (#19430199)

(or at least as much from scratch as you can get when you already know how other life works)

You're talking about programs, aren't you!

I'd offer myself as prior art.. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Meoward (665631) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429199)

..but I have no life. If anyone wants me, I'm in the basement.

Too late, prior art (1)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429217)

Seems as though a patent for artificial life, belonging to one Victor Frankenstein, has already expired. Along with a sub-category submitted by Abby Normal, signed off by The Man with Two Brains.

Take it to the courts! (1)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429265)

This one will probably bring a very interesting court case into the patent world. Technically it is a patentable idea, but when it comes down to it the courts will probably see how general what they are claiming really is as it is the start of a whole new field of study. It will be interesting to see what happens.

courts lawyrds and stupid laws (1)

biscon (942763) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429581)

because everything have to settled in a court these days... anyway who's the other part here?

"Dibs" on a new steady revenue stream (1)

Anonymous Meoward (665631) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429269)

I just submitted a patent for synthetic death.

There's no prior art yet, and it's inevitable.

Re:"Dibs" on a new steady revenue stream (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429321)

sorry, i have prior art on this, with this new method I created called "apotosis".

And, actually, I am working on some other biochemistry changes to create cell death.

One involves alchohol. Lots of alcohol. I am hoping Stoli will finance my research into the subject.

I claim prior art and have one example to submit (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429271)

My son.

I used the GATC encoding scheme.

All your offspring are belong to me.

If this is legitimate... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19429413)

Then why was my application to patent Dick Cheney rejected?

I just trumped all y'alls (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429467)

I patented Creation. That's right. Anything and everything. God's getting a call from my lawyers.

Re:I just trumped all y'alls (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429637)

I patented Creation.

Which version?

The standard Bible has three. Then there's all the other variants (like Mormons, etc) and other religions (Hindu, etc).

I claim prior art - I'm a druid.

I don't understand (1)

Luft08091950 (1101097) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429471)

I though that ideas could not be patented? Are they saying they have the ability to do this already? If they can't do it, isn't it just an idea? It's pretty easy to come up with ideas but much harder to implement an ideal into something that is real.

What if it breeds and Escapes (1)

spribyl (175893) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429507)

While I am laughing about this silly patent, I am more concerned about the safety of what ever is created.
I don't believe the GM crops are 100% safe. GM crops are not hybrid crops.

Better than lots of Slashdot Readers (1)

StCredZero (169093) | more than 7 years ago | (#19430061)

A lot of them never breed, and never move out of their parent's basement!

It's not about patenting life (2, Informative)

voislav98 (1004117) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429595)

They are trying to patent the minimum genome neccesary for this particular bacteria to exist. It's no different than any other attempts to patent the parts or the whole genome of certain organisms. IMHO, it a big deal about nothing, I don't see how is genetically engineered bacteria any different than a patenting a machine that does the same job. The patent is very specific as to the length and variations in the genome sequence and could not be applied (as far as I can tell) to synthetic life in general.

Patents are now 20 years (1)

Intron (870560) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429693)

Since patents are now 20 years from application date, this presages an interesting court case. What happens if the patent is still in force when this new lifeform is old enough to vote?

how long till we can say (1)

yoprst (944706) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429711)

in Venter Institute geneticists patent you
?

Don't be afraid. Be very very afraid (2, Insightful)

presidenteloco (659168) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429741)

Ok, so what do we know?
Lifeforms reproduce themselves, patterning surrounding matter and
energy into more of their own form.

Over several billions of years, natural ecosystems have evolved
checks and balances on overabundance of any particular lifeform.
Other lifeforms co-evolved and the lifeforms limit each other
(by eating each other, by competing for the same resources, etc.)

The ecosystems change, but rather gradually, as many stalemates
(equilibria) in the energy and strategy balance of the
competitive patterning game evolve.

So now we have Joe or Jane Scientist, or gene-engineer, thinking
"I'm pretty damn smart. I know my sh*t.
Got it 'Piled higher & Deeper' in fact.

Why don't I just unleash my patented self-replicating, resource-patterning
machine, and let's see what happens.

On the bright side, most things they could come up with will be no match
for the 3 billion year evolved competition.

On the other side, they could be unlucky, and make something that no other
lifeform recognized, or could eat, or could compete with for resources.

Oh, too bad. Start game over.

Re:Don't be afraid. Be very very afraid (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 7 years ago | (#19430159)

The idea that a human could design a living organic creature that could out-compete the entire rest of the evolutionary biomasses' capacity to compete/eat is laughable.

Particularly one that would work in all environments. The worst case scenario is making a certain specific bio-culture wierd. (i.e. a creature might be able to rule the -10 to 80 degree life zone, but could not stand temperatures under -30, or over 90, so we just move to canada/florida and kill it during the winter/summer.

Prior Art (1)

MSTCrow5429 (642744) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429767)

Is/are God/god/gods referenced as prior art on the patent application?

Re:Prior Art (1)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 7 years ago | (#19430043)

I don't know, but I think the Ori have Prior art.

Tyrell Corporation? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429803)

Sounds like they are gearing up for the replicant market.

Prior art. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19429893)

Balmer chair joke making slashdolts already qualify as the simplest life form. ;)

Fraught (1)

chrpai (806494) | more than 7 years ago | (#19429937)

"But it was also fraught with commercial possibilities" Your new overlords welcome those oh so evil commercial possibilites. A better word would have been Ripe not Fraught.

well, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19429951)

I invented boobs.

  I deserve the Nobel prize for all of time.

Bible = Prior Art (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 7 years ago | (#19430071)

Fool: I hereby wish to patent life.

Patent official (I hope they are at least this intelligent): What type of life do you wish to patent.

Fool: NO. I want to patent ALL life.

Patent Official: Why, there might be prior art.

Fool: NO, everyone else made "natural life", I am going to patent life that anyone makes, i.e. SYTNETHETIC life.

Patent Official: Have you heard of God? He is this big, super-powerfull creature that some people think may have created life. That means that all life is synthetic, and priror art exists.

Fool: I am atheistic, I don't belive in God.

Patent Official: Regardless, the jewish bible is supposed to be 5000 years old, and we definitely have copies of it that are more than 1,000 years old, and even if you personally don't believe in god, it accurately describes life as being artificially created by a creature, and therefore prior art to your moronic synthetic life idea exists. It does not matter if the prior art was in a work of fiction or not. Now get out of hear before we stone you to death for being an obnoxios Patent abusing athiestic piece of crap.

The Microsoft of biology (1)

Asgerix (1035824) | more than 7 years ago | (#19430127)

From the article:

"Venter's enterprises are positioning themselves to be the Microsoft of synthetic biology,"
So any organism infected by their synthetic bacteria will become slow and vulnerable to viruses?

Re:The Microsoft of biology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19430293)

They're french?

misleading title, marginal patent (4, Informative)

bioman-laserboy (1112841) | more than 7 years ago | (#19430215)

I'm a GRA in a biomedical lab and took a course once on bioengineering, the topic of the patent.

As mentioned previously they're not patenting synthetic life but a specific minimal set of genes required to produce a replicating bacterium. There was a non-trivial amount of work that went into researching these genes and determining the least combinations necessary for replication in a solution that provides all the basic building blocks (ie. this bacteria will not be synthesizing its own amino acids, I would imagine).

This is could be important for industrial biosynthetic applications. Every protein expressed by a bacteria increases its metabolic load and decreases the efficiency with which it can convert input (sugars, amino acids, nucleotides) into the desired output (insulin, drugs, other useful biocompounds). By determining the minimum necessary set of genes for replication a ground-state bacteria has been designed that can be used as the starting point for designing more efficient expression systems.

It also allows these expression systems to be more fully characterized which can help when attempting to determine and modulate the effect metabolic load and evolution will have on a vat of bacteria as it progresses from generation to generation. One problem with these systems is that synthesizing extra compounds increases the metabolic and decreases the replication rate. If it is possible for the bacteria to mutate and stop expression of the product their metabolic load decreases and they begin to replicate faster; this causes vats of bacteria to tend to evolve such that they stop producing the useful compound. There are ways to get around this (such as turning production on and off using external chemical signals, tying production to survival, etc.) that might be optimized in such a minimal system. Engineering life is tricky because of the extremely high number of potential interactions to be analyzed for every new configuration; it is more difficult because many of these interactions can't be calculated or simulated.

This patent won't be all that useful for more complex human proteins as these require an array of post-translational modification proteins that change the product after the initial synthesis; thus they require a correspondingly complex expression system derived from a yeast cell or an animal cell (I think some worms have been used to develop complex expression systems); Alternately bacteria can be modified to produce the modification proteins. These expression systems have doubtless already been patented or are no longer patentable, so this new patent probably won't be very useful until it is bundled with a set of associated patents for efficient expression systems for various compounds.

What defines synthetic "life"... (1)

Bones3D_mac (324952) | more than 7 years ago | (#19430275)

... and should we even regard such creations as living?

Why not just refer to them as "autonomous bio-chemical machines" and simply avoid the philosophical overhead that is sure to come from claiming you are frankensteining artificial creatures in some dark laboratory located in our back yard?

I'd question if "Life" is soon going to be someone's registered trademark, but apparently Mikey already squatted it a few decades ago...
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