A Splice of Mice

Mickey isn’t the only mouse trying to wriggle out of the clutches of the masters of code.
Animation World Network

Canada last week refused to grant a patent for a genetically modified mouse.

Unlike the US, EU and Japan, Canada denies that Harvard’s scientists invented anything when they manipulated mouse genes. Its Supreme Court says the university doesn’t deserve a patent – at least not until the politicians have had a chance to think the ethics of biotech over.
National Post

As with Mickey, business concerns slam into public concerns here.

It doesn’t make much business sense for patented genes to be freely accessible. After all, you don’t want your rivals rummaging through your research work.

This isn’t just a standard big business line. As biotech develops, smaller firms, entrepreneurial boffins often, universities even, are entering the market as niche developers. Like artists, writers, coders and other intellectual property creators, they want to safeguard their work so they can be properly rewarded.

Fine, but when it comes to biotech, sole ownership of this kind of information isn’t in the public interest. Charging for access is likely to discourage research. Ideas develop most rapidly, most fruitfully through free exchanges of information. And it goes against common sense, moral sense, for private groups to have monopolies over such fundamental knowledge.

Think eugenics here. Think perfect blue-eyed, blond-haired babies. Think the Boys from Brazil.

Scientists as scientists tend to agree that science should be open to all, should be open source. According to Michael Morgan, formerly executive director of research at the Wellcome Trust, research and competition were enhanced when the results of the Human Genome Project were immediately made public – for free – over the Internet.
Globe and Mail

Business argues, however, that open source can sit alongside proprietary code. An academic institution, like Harvard, can apply its expertise to become a business and generate wealth for the good of its staff and students, for the greater good.

Perhaps. But GM mice, unlike Mickey or Windows XP, scamper through the real world. Clicking through standard intellectual property arguments when faced with invention at such a fundamental level, at a time when the news is one brave new nightmare, isn’t enough.

Corporations are exercising property rights over their biotech creations. How morally right is this? To enclose a creature’s genetic code? To turn such fundamental information, the stuff of life, into something that can be bought and sold?

Like much else in life, as the public debate over patenting life splutters on in parliaments and in the media, the business of business happens quietly in the background. The corporations are shaping the biotech agenda. In universities even.

Canada’s politicians may ponder long and hard. They won’t be able to ignore the pressure from corporate lobbyists. Canada has to play the same free trade rules as the rest of the world. Patent law there, as everywhere else, will be reinvented for the 21st Century.

Meanwhile, challenging the idea of minting money out of minting life is left to the scientists. The Canadian decision came the day after the publication of the draft complete mouse genome. Scientists from 27 institutions in six countries took part in the £87m Mouse Genome Sequencing Consortium.
Independent

The consortium is in the public sector. All its data is in the public domain.

Off Switch For Big Media

It’s the beginning of the end of the big media monopoly, argues Robert X Cringely. The big media corporations may have succeeded in making copying illegal. But even Microsoft is starting to acknowledge that there’s been a total failure in stopping the growth of a culture of copying.

Big media’s next step will be to employ hacking techniques against peer-to-peer file sharing systems. Then, as consumer PR hits rock bottom, the corporates will introduce their own pretty peer-to-peer systems.

With corporate peer-to-peer – two incompatible ideas – likely to fail, big media will increasingly concentrate on media projects, like blockbuster films, requiring large amounts of cash. Text and music will come from individual writers and artists operating outside the old media loop.

If the corporates don’t accommodate this new media, they may find their game is over.
– Cringely’s Pulpit