Saturday, October 17, 2009

Review in The Guardian, UK

A rather nice review from Steven Poole's "Etcetera non-fiction roundup," Oct 17, 2009, in The Guardian:

"Who Owns You? The Corporate Gold Rush to Patent Your Genes, by David Koepsell (Wiley-Blackwell, £14.99)

Despite the protester-friendly subtitle, this isn't exactly a gosh-wow exposé of the gene-patenting business, but a tersely polemical investigation of the philosophical, scientific and legal issues. Should biotech companies be able to patent genetic sequences taken from sick individuals and monopolise the profit from them? Can you be said to "own" your genes, and to what extent are they part of you as a person? Some companies have acquired patents on genes that we all share, prompting Koepsell to observe: "The only thing the inventor has done is to point out, as if on a map, where that gene lies in nature."

The author insists at moments on a slightly quirky general account of "natural law", but one doesn't need to buy that to appreciate his fruitful detours into discussions of copyright history or "open source". He finally returns to the analogy with land, arguing that ought to be our shared "commons", and that the patent-rush constitutes a new enclosure."

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