Re: SOC/BIO: Rifkin on Human Genetic Engineering in the LA Times

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Sat Feb 05 2000 - 23:31:49 MST

On Sun, 6 Feb 2000, Damien Broderick wrote:

> Yes. But *some* of what he's pointing at scares the shit out of me anyway.
> I want to know exactly what the patent claim allows. Presumably Geron can't
> demand a royalty on every natural conception (which is the sort of global
> claim over embryo creation Rifkin seems to be implying), but only over the
> use of certain precise in vitro procedures. Right? E.g., a different but
> perhaps related point: I *really* hate the idea of human DNA fragments
> being `patented'; as well patent the idea of the eye.

It is my understanding that patents must claim novelty (clearly not
the case with human "conceptions") and they may only be enforced
for the "claims" in the patents (e.g. creating clones).

Now, we still have a fair number of years before cloning technology
is *useful* for something. Think of the industry that would have
to be developed to grow brainless bodies for organ replacements
and then think about the fact that the patent only lasts 20 years.
As far as a real use for cloning, such as cloning cells for
seeding lab-grown organs, you again have the infrastructure
problem on top of the organ specific differentiation problem.
If they can get this to the reality stage in 10 years, I don't
think I'd mind paying Geron royalties to get a new set of organs.

The patents on human DNA aren't on the DNA itself, they are on
the *uses* of the DNA sequences in specific applications. If
I come up with a different application that wasn't in the
original claims, then I believe I can file a patent on that.
[Someone with more legal expertise may want to comment on
my perception in this area.]

Then there is the problem of polymorphisms. If I patent a sequence
of DNA, can someone use a naturally occuring sequence that is
different due to polymorphisms that was not in the original patent?
Proteins have a fair amount of tolerance for changes in their
amino-acid sequence. I doubt any of the patents filed thus
far cover all of the possible substitutions that can be made
in the original sequence to get a "different" unpatented molecule.

All of these things and some others I can't discuss provide
good reason to believe that the DNA patenting discussion contains
a large amount of noise. Now, at the same time, novel *processes*
such as invented for the cloning process are probably worth patenting.
[Think of how much work went into that and how much it went against
the conventional wisdom that cloning was "impossible".]

Think of how many patents cover the CPUs in the computers on
your desk. Hundreds? Thousands? That doesn't in any way
prevent you from enjoying the benefits of the ideas those
patents protect. In fact it probably helps you enjoy them
since it allows corporate managers and investors to compute
a 20 year ROI. But jeeesh, from our perspective on "20 years",
why thats a scab on a tick on a mouse in your house.

> and if cloned human embryos are, in fact, considered to be human
> inventions, then what becomes of our notion of the Tooth Fairy?

The embryos are not the "invention", the "cloning" process is.

> Oh no, waaaah--

Don't cry Damien, I believe the Tooth Fairy comes under the "prior art"


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:03:29 MDT