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Businesses Patents Science

Nearly Half the Patents on Marine Genes Belong To Just One Company (smithsonianmag.com) 157

A creature as majestic as a whale, you might think, should have no owner. Yet it turns out that certain snippets of the DNA that makes a sperm whale a sperm whale are actually the subjects of patents -- meaning that private entities have exclusive rights to their use for research and development. From a report: The same goes for countless other marine species. And new research shows that a single German chemical company owns 47 percent of patented marine gene sequences. A just-published paper in Science Advances finds that 862 separate species of marine life have genetic patents associated with them. "It's everything from microorganisms to fish species," says lead author Robert Blasiak, a conservation researcher at the University of Stockholm who was shocked to find out how many genetic sequences in the ocean were patented. "Even iconic species" -- like plankton, manta rays, and yes, sperm whales. Of some 13,000 genetic sequences targeted by patents, nearly half are the intellectual property of a company called Baden Aniline and Soda Factory (BASF).

Nearly Half the Patents on Marine Genes Belong To Just One Company

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  • Prior art (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 14, 2018 @07:41AM (#56782364)

    How can you patent something you didn't create? Copy-pasted genetic sequences are just copy-pasted prior art libraries!

    CAPTCHA: "Lordship"

    • Re:Prior art (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 14, 2018 @07:50AM (#56782402)

      Because lawyers and idiotic, corrupted and ignorant politicians. One would think you'd have to look really hard for a clearer case of "discoveries", which are not patentable, but ofc that goes out the window when there's sufficient money involved.

    • by DRJlaw ( 946416 )

      How can you patent something you didn't create? Copy-pasted genetic sequences are just copy-pasted prior art libraries.

      TFA: " For example, Blasiak notes that BASF has been harnessing the genes of some tiny aquatic lifeforms in an effort to produce designer health foods: âoeTheyâ(TM)ve been splicing genes from different microorganisms into grapeseed and canola, then taking the seeds and seeing if they can produce oils that contain omega-3 fatty acids,â he says."

      Sounds to me like they created t

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Sounds to me like they created those modified grapeseed and canola plants..

        If they wrote the code themselves without looking at naturally occuring sequences, maybe. But if they spliced it from something else then its just copy-paste.

        • by DRJlaw ( 946416 )

          If they wrote the code themselves without looking at naturally occuring sequences, maybe. But if they spliced it from something else then its just copy-paste.

          Fine. Then copy-pasted genetic sequence as you're defining them are and should be patentable. A grapeseed or canola plant that produces omega-3 fatty acids does not exist in nature. It will have been created by people. Which negates your base question "How can you patent something you didn't create?"

          • by DRJlaw ( 946416 )

            May as well point out that the parent is highly abbreviated: canola produces a minor amount of ALA, but no EPA or DHA, which are the marine omega-3s that are being referenced in TFA.

          • If they wrote the code themselves without looking at naturally occuring sequences, maybe. But if they spliced it from something else then its just copy-paste.

            Fine. Then copy-pasted genetic sequence as you're defining them are and should be patentable. A grapeseed or canola plant that produces omega-3 fatty acids does not exist in nature. It will have been created by people. Which negates your base question "How can you patent something you didn't create?"

            Wrong way around. Thats like saying the pencil should be patented while the design you draw with it is not. You shouldn't be able to patent the gene but if you do something and make a different product with it, such as a omega 3 grape, then that is what you patent. Unless you want to start sueing everytime a fish fucks.

            Who is even issuing these patents?

            • by DRJlaw ( 946416 )

              Wrong way around. Thats like saying the pencil should be patented while the design you draw with it is not.

              No, he defined "copy-pasted genetic sequences" as including the combination of the marine gene with a plant. The combination of the marine gene with the plant is the design, not the pencil. The patentability of genetically modified organisms was settled 30 years ago [nytimes.com], if not even earlier when considering bacteria (1980) and conventionally bred crop plants (1930).

              You shouldn't be able to patent the ge

              • Wrong way around. Thats like saying the pencil should be patented while the design you draw with it is not.

                No, he defined "copy-pasted genetic sequences" as including the combination of the marine gene with a plant. The combination of the marine gene with the plant is the design, not the pencil. The patentability of genetically modified organisms was settled 30 years ago [nytimes.com], if not even earlier when considering bacteria (1980) and conventionally bred crop plants (1930).

                You shouldn't be able to patent the gene but if you do something and make a different product with it, such as a omega 3 grape, then that is what you patent

                A grapeseed or canola plant that incorporates a marine gene to produce omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) is the different product, and is exactly what I said would be patentable.

                Then I guess I misunderstood you, sorry about that, as you were.

              • by cas2000 ( 148703 )

                A grapeseed or canola plant that incorporates a marine gene to produce omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) is the different product, and is exactly what I said would be patentable.

                except for (at least) three major problems that prevent patenting:

                You can't patent things, and you can't patent ideas, you can only patent inventions, i.e. specific processes and methods for doing specific things.

                And thirdly, you can't patent the obvious. Getting commonly grown plants to produce more useful nutrients by copying t

                • by DRJlaw ( 946416 )

                  I've only been doing this for a couple od decades. I'm sure that this will be good.

                  [First,] You can't patent things

                  The USPTO explicitly disagrees with you [uspto.gov] ("35 U.S.C. 101 defines the four categories of invention that Congress deemed to be the appropriate subject matter of a patent: processes, machines, manufactures and compositions of matter. The latter three categories define 'things' or 'products' while the first category defines 'actions' (i.e., inventions that consist of a series of steps or acts to be

        • I like your thinking.

          Maybe everyone, say at primary school, should be compelled to sign a legal document saying, "I agree that I have been contaminated by exposure to the works of Nature, and therefore any derivative work that I ever create may be the property of Nature".

  • Semper Fi!

  • The Right to Breed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Martin S. ( 98249 ) <Martin.SpamerNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday June 14, 2018 @08:04AM (#56782448) Homepage Journal

    Why am I reminded of this:

    The Right to Read by Richard Stallman

    This article appeared in the February 1997 issue of Communications of the ACM (Volume 40, Number 2).

    https://www.gnu.org/philosophy... [gnu.org]

  • I recall a uninamous SCOUTS ruling that states that naturally occurring genetic sequences cannot be patented. Shouldn't this apply to this case?
    • I recall a uninamous SCOUTS ruling that states that naturally occurring genetic sequences cannot be patented. Shouldn't this apply to this case?

      FTF:

      In the past, cases about patenting genes have reached the highest courts. In a unanimous ruling of 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court displayed a willingness to combat the corporate patenting of DNA, asserting unanimously that snippets of human DNA cannot be patented.

      For areas beyond national jurisdiction like the high seas, though, there is currently little legal precedent to draw on—“very patchwork legislation,” Blasiak says. The Nagoya Protocol, ratified by 97 parties and in force as of 2014, attempted to lay out a system of standards for monetizing biodiversity within national jurisdictions. But applying that protocol to the high seas isn’t really feasible, says University of California at Los Angeles environmental law scholar James Salzman, because the open ocean is jurisdiction-less.

      So with BASF owning ocean life, and Bayer buying Monsanto and owning plant life . . . it looks like German chemical companies are getting close to cornering the market for life on this planet.

      So . . . y'all best be learning German . . . nicht wahr?

      • For areas beyond national jurisdiction like the high seas, though, there is currently little legal precedent to draw on—“very patchwork legislation,” Blasiak says.

        But patent litigation happens in national courts. SCOTUS decision means the US DNA patents are invalid in a US court. And since they are US patents, they are also invalid in a non US court.

        Perhaps BASF/Monsanto plans to lobby legislators to make the patent legal after they purchased it? It seemed to be the strategy for software patent in EU at some time.

  • Patents exist to encourage research, development, inventing new things, and sharing that knowledge instead of keeping it a secret. Researching whale genes costs money, so if there were no patents then either the company would keep its discoveries locked in a safe or anyone would be able to freely leech off of them.

    Patenting the obvious is a separate issue.

  • by LostMonk ( 1839248 ) on Thursday June 14, 2018 @08:46AM (#56782610)

    So, now when a boy whale and a girl whale get together... do they need a license? can they be sued?

  • by Wdi ( 142463 ) on Thursday June 14, 2018 @08:52AM (#56782634)

    Please understand what a patent protection provides, and what not.

    A patent only prevents the commercial exploitation of the protected patent topic by competitors. It explicitly does *not* prevent *anybody* from studying and researching the patent matter, even with the explicit aim to circumvent the patent, to understand the issue beyond what is disclosed in the patent, or the commercialization of development results designed to avoid the patent matter.

    • by etash ( 1907284 )
      How exactly does this make it any better ? Genes occur in nature they're not something invented. Why shouldn't a competitor exploit a gene ? It's not as if this gene is the product of the company that has the patent. It's like saying that a company can have a patent on cow's milk and no other company or person in the world can milk cows.
  • So, are they going to sue those $MARINE_LIFE when they reproduce?

    It is seriously f*cked up that patents would be granted on discoveries instead of inventions.

    Oh, "a company" -> BASF is not exactly an unknown. Far from it.

  • I remember hearing this a lot from my TV over the past few years: "WE DON'T MAKE A LOT OF THE PRODUCTS YOU BUY. WE MAKE A LOT OF THE PRODUCTS YOU BUY BETTER." That was the BASF slogan for a lot of years. It certainly takes on new meaning with this article.
    • I remember hearing this a lot from my TV over the past few years: "WE DON'T MAKE A LOT OF THE PRODUCTS YOU BUY. WE MAKE A LOT OF THE PRODUCTS YOU BUY BETTER." That was the BASF slogan for a lot of years. It certainly takes on new meaning with this article.

      BASF, we don't make the whales in the sea; we just watch them screw each other.

  • These patents only exist for a limited amount of time, and then they expire. In the United States, I think this is at most twenty years.

    The article doesn't mention expiration, or limited duration. Those are limits on the "ownership" this (evil) corporation has over the "heritage of mankind" after they spend $$$ sequencing genes and coming up with a novel use for that genetic material.

    Doesn't this also depend on where you live, and what courts decided to uphold which patents? I remember reading about how a l

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      after they spend $$$ sequencing genes and coming up with a novel use for that genetic material.

      First of all, gene sequencing has become pretty cheap over the last few decades. And I didn't see where they came up with a novel use and based a patent on that. It appears that they are taking an entire genome and sitting on it to block others from developing products.

      Now here's an interesting idea: When I patent some gizmo, I have to describe what each part does in the patent claims. Does BASF have to describe the function of each part of the DNA sequence? If not, how is the patent claim valid?

  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Thursday June 14, 2018 @09:58AM (#56782924)

    Marines have their own genes, and they're patented?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Oorah!

  • In the US, plant and animal patents apply to breeds and sequences that you created as variations from the natural. Does German law allow companies to put legal dibs on purely natural gene sequences?

  • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Thursday June 14, 2018 @11:09AM (#56783344) Homepage

    Is this where God sues on the basis of prior art?

    • Is this where God sues on the basis of prior art?

      God is fairly new, he is predated by countless other divine creators. The reason God doesn't perform miracles anymore is that he was sued by Nammu. Nammu claimed prior art at having created the earth and sent God a cease and desist letter.

  • You realize so much has been documented on so many species genes is because of the patentability, right?

    We would be nowhere near here without it, and almost certainly still would not be by the time the patents would have expired.

  • I remember them being suppliers of some of the more high-end cassette tapes in Soviet Union back in 80s! :)

    How things changed...

    Paul B.

  • BASF is not just "a German chemical company", it is THE largest chemical manufacturer in the world, and it's well-known

    It is also one of remaining parts of IG Farben concern (of Zyklon B fame), together with Bayer (who purchased Monsanto of Agent Orange and GMO fame).

    There already is A LOT of power in A FEW global companies. SF writers were right in their observations from 60 years ago.

  • How is this even possible? How can you patent it before you know what those genes do (even if you think that they should be patentable in the first place). It's like someone patenting random shapes of wood because they might figure out if they're gears some day.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun

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