Saturday, August 22, 2009

A methodical response to Chris Holman's "review"

I will work through as many of his specific citations of error. In general, his allegations of error rely on one disregarding the context of my policy and logical discussion of the law, which includes my dismissal through argument of many of the current law’s assumptions (such as that “isolation and purification” somehow turns a gene into something “new). In re-reading my book in light of Holman's review, I kept thinking maybe he and I read a different book, there's so much he disregards and so little he focuses on. But here are my responses to as many of the alleged errors as possible:

1.) I caught most of my discussions of nucleotides in proofing, but did apparently miss some cases in which I refer to a nucleotide or nucleic acid as an amino acid. mea culpa

2.) My discussion of introns is accurate though not in-depth, but Holman doesn’t specify how I allegedly erred.

3.) Patent law does apply to discoveries, but they must be “new.” Now, this does not include discoveries of natural things that have long existed, which are not “new” and the case law is clear on this. The only “discoveries” that can then be logically patentable are those that are somehow inventive, which I argue genes are not, even in their “isolated and purified” state. Once again, this is an instance of Holman taking the conclusion of an argument I make out of the context of the argument itself, claiming it is an error rather than explaining the line of reasoning that leads me to my conclusion, and then saying I am merely wrong. We disagree, and I state my reasons in the book.

4.) As I state in the book, US patents do effect other jurisdictions thanks to the WTO and TRIPS agreements. Europe and Japan do not allow “gene patents” on unmodified genes, specifically, they disallow patents over the sequences, although they allow patents on genes used in some new process or product involving an “inventive step,” which helped, for a time, prevent the BRCA1 and 2 patents in Europe, though they are now allowed (to a degree). I argue that new products incorporating laws of nature or natural parts are patentable as a whole. The BRCA1 and 2 patents allowed in Europe are closer to what I would consider to be proper, though I have ethical issues with them as well. This is a point made in The American Interest article as well.

5.) I argue in my book that the yeast and adrenaline patents were erroneous. The adrenaline patent, if it protected the compound adrenaline, could not have protected its naturally-occurring analogue, so what more could it have logically protected other than the process of synthesis? I think I could have done a better job making this logical dispute with those patents explicit. An analogy would be water. If one developed “isolated and purified” water, synthesized it from scratch, and patented it, then in what logical sense could it also protect the molecule H2O? It couldn’t, so it would only be a process patent, no matter what the claims state. As for a patent on a representation of a gene, this was presented as a hypothetical that would accord with my overall theory of IP law, and not as an example of how patents are actually issued. My general theory of intellectual property states that all man-made expressions, intentionally-produced are potentially protectable, in which case so would representations of genes be protectable. Except, I conclude in the case of existing genes that they belong to a commons by necessity which can never be enclosed.

6.) I do discuss Moore at length, I do point out it is a state case, and put it in the historical context that helped convince Celera’s attorneys to begin patenting genes. It is a well-known, historically important case in the development of the law regarding ownership issues in products of human tissues. I put it in that context explicitly in the book.

7.) Patents do include a right to enjoin, I don’t see that leaving that out is a "serious misstatement" about patent rights, which I do mention include the rights to royalties and fees. In fact, the injunction right makes gene patents worse, so thanks to Holman for mentioning this as well. US patents have extra-jurisdictional effect, as mentioned before, through WTO and TRIPS. As I argue, US IP law has a powerful influence on other jurisdictions.

8.) The next long criticism relies on buying Holman’s and other patent attorneys' argument that “isolation and purification” creates something new, which I argue at length in the book it does not. Thus his conclusion “All of these scenarios would indeed raise serious ethical concerns if they had any basis in reality, but in fact all are mere figments of the author's imagination resulting from his profound misunderstanding of patent law,” does not take into account my lengthy argument about isolation and purification, and all the scenarios I mention are thus technically true (under my interpretation of the logic involved), and not at all fiction. What Holman calls a “misunderstanding” of patent law is part of my central disagreement over the scope and effect of gene patents (not a misunderstanding) because of my arguments about the ontological status of genes, both “isolated and purified” and otherwise. This point is crucial to an understanding of my ethical arguments which he completely misses as a result.

9.) I have referenced Murray’s studies about the chilling effect of gene patents. There is certainly room for dispute, and more evidence is needed. Ultimately, my conclusion is based on the ethics, not the practical effect.

10.) I do summarize arguments made by others and cite to as many as I had considered, but I also break new ground which Holman ignores or possibly misses. For instance, his characterization and dismissal of my central argument in Chapter 7, which he calls a rehash of the anti-commons arguments of others. It is not, I don't even use the term "anticommons," and no one who has actually read the chapter could conclude that it relates in any way to any anticommons argument at all (which is a utilitarian argument, while mine is not). That chapter makes the ontological argument which supports my ethical conclusion, regarding the existence of certain things which I call “commons by necessity” and which I conclude DNA belongs to.

11.) The rest of the review basically defends the practice of gene patenting, making this more clearly an advocacy piece, and less a book review.

All told, Holman’s review focuses on about 10 pages of my book, in which I discuss law and cases, and leaves out the bulk of it. In writing this response, I went back and carefully re-read my book and was amazed at just how much of my discussion is completely ignored, and how little of what I write about is actually referenced. It seems that those who disagree with my conclusions have done their best to turn points of contention and disagreement over policy into allegations of “error” where in fact, there is plenty of argument to be made on either side. My book makes one argument, but let’s not pretend that the arguments on the other side are “fact” when they are simply arguments which I have taken care to dispute in making my own.


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6 comments:

Anonymous said...
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drkoepsell said...
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Stephan Kinsella said...

Dr. Koepsell,

I posted a long comment to this here, because your blog comment limited me to 4096 characters (way too small!). Feel free to reproduce it yourself if you like.

drkoepsell said...

Thanks very much, Stephan. I appreciate your informed opinion and careful reading.

I will also look at how I can expand my comments section using this service.

best,
David

drkoepsell said...
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drkoepsell said...

Finally, I think Holman should have disclosed when he published his review that he continues to consult for BIO, writing amicus briefs for them on occasion even now. This is relevant because BIO has a strongly stated position in favor of gene patents, and if any of Holman's ongoing consultations are paid, which he has never denied, this gives him a financial stake in the matter. At least, there should have been some more transparency on his part about his connections with the industry, both past and present. I never made any ad hominem accusations, but merely raised a relevant question about his motivations and interests. These remain open questions even now.