About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

George Dvorsky on gene patents

George Dvorksy has an interesting article at io9 on the subject of gene patents, discussing the current litigation over the issue. This includes a quote that he got from me on the subject of contrived patents in general and on the so-called tragedy of the anti-commons (though I don't use that expression - the point is that, theoretically, intellectual property rights can be become too fragmented among different right-holders to operate in the public interest).

The article is worth reading, not only because it discusses my (rather wishy-washy) views sympathetically but also because it gives an up-to-date and accurate account of a tricky, often misunderstood, subject. Dvorsky has his own bias, but he's fair in presenting arguments from both sides of the debate without simply dismissing any of them or demonising people with whom he has disagreements.

There's also a vigorous discussion thread there, which looks like it may contain some worthwhile nuggets.


Jambe said...


I appreciate your very pragmatic concerns about contrived patents and a sort of corporation-dominated schism of the human genome. It's a tangential topic, but have you read Ben Goldacre's Bad Pharma?

This is likewise a sidebar to your train of thought, but I feel that patent eligibility has become dangerously unprincipled with the advent of software patents, and I'm not confident that the proliferation of gene patents would improve the situation.

Even further OT: I'm not up to speed with patent law in Australia, but I think the term of patent is too long in the USA, especially for software (which should be more like 5 years, although I'm not convinced software should be patentable at all). 222 years ago official monopoly in America lasted 14 years, and now with the breakneck pace of innovation, it lasts 20...

Russell Blackford said...

I haven't actually read BAD PHARMA but I have a general concern about overreaching intellectual property laws. Remember when I actually took the side of the EXPELLED people against Yoko Ono when she (unsucessfully) sued them?

We do need intellectual property laws - as a writer, I'm very aware of this - but they often go much further than the underlying policy concerns dictate.

Jambe said...

Mm, yes. That brings to mind Kirby Ferguson's excellent Everything is a Remix series of short videos.

I also believe we need IP laws, but I'm rather firmly in the camp of the Larry Lessigs and Cory Doctorows of the world in that I feel IP law (especially copyright and patent) has ballooned far beyond its proper scale.

In light of your recent retrospective posts I want to say your writing in 2012 has been excellent and I look forward to more of you words in 2013. I hope it's a good year for you & yours.

Russell Blackford said...

Thanks for your kind words, Jambe. As you'll probably have seen (as it couldn't be more conspicuous!), I've moved this blog over to Skeptic Ink. Please do continue to read it there.

All the best to you, and your friends and loved ones, in 2013.