The US government's amicus brief in the inevitable appeal proceedings relating to the gene patents case is something of a surprise.
The government emphasises its view (which I tend to agree with) that patents should not be available merely for DNA sequences already found in nature (even if they have been rendered "pure"), though they should be available for such things as gene-replacement therapies, engineered biological drugs, methods for modifying the properties of organisms, etc. This will also include novel organisms as in the key Chakrabarty case from 1980.
Most discussions I've heard on what should be patentable, by who and for how long, fail to identify that the various sides believe patients are actually meant to be *for*. And without that being made explicit, it is harder to judge the position or intent of the argument.
For instance, you could argue that patients are:
a) a temporary privilege granted to an inventor, intended to encourage and reward innovation by granting a limited monopoly.
b) a form of private property that the 'inventor' has a natural right too.
c) a tool corporations can buy up and reserve for later battering of their competitors and stiffling of competition.
I think (and I may be wrong) that 'a' is closest to the original intent of patents. But 'b' and 'c' seem to the position assumed by many in the legal and business world (supported by plenty of politicians). Especially so when they talk in terms of patents as 'intellectual property'.
One interesting thing about position 'a' is that is suggests that not all types of invention should be treated equally for patent purposes. Only in those areas where a limited monopoly is likely to really help innovation should patients be granted (if you take this view).
So for example, patients on software should probably not be permitted, as it is a historical fact that software innovation has proceed apace long before any government issued any software patient. (And 'c', and recent history, suggests good reasons for thinking that, in fact, software patients actually harm innovation.)
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