21 July 2006

Monsanto Pigshit

Monsanto files patent for new invention: the pig

Trust the megacorps! (Hint for humour-alternatively-abled)

Well, before overreacting, we have to understand something of how the patent process works: you start out with some incredibly broad claim, which will likely get struck down, then follow up with something ever-so-slightly narrower, which is ever-so-slightly-less-likely to get struck down, followed by some ever-so-slightly anrrower claim,.... ad nauseam until you get something you hope is still defensible.  Only a lawyer could love it.

Basically it is a strategy that relies on the fact that Patent Offices all over the world are overburdened with bogus claims. Particularly the USPTO. So, in the torrent of patentable-but-shouldn't-be shit, some of these ridiculous patent applications will slip through, especially since the patent examiners frequently lack the technical expertise to evaluate the detailed claims of a given patent application.

Of course once a patent has been granted, someone "just" has to come along and prove prior art or obviousness (which shouldn't be hard in this case :-) to get the patent tossed, and that's quite hard, expensive, and carries little or no reward.

It looks to me like Monsanto are really seeking a patent on some genetic quirk that has the effect of speeding the normal selective-breeding cycles, and they're throwing a lot of extra mud on the wall because, who knows? some may stick!  They're almost certainly right!

At the root of the problem is the broken American patent system that is allowing non-material "things", like ideas, mathematical expressions and descriptions of processes, to be patented, and the laws (American in origin, but now pretty universal) that give corporate entities the same legal status as real people - but that's another rant for another day. I strongly recomend the writing of Lawrence Lessig, who is not only far cleverer than me, and happens to also know a near-infinite more about patent law than me, but also explains the issues in a very digestible manner. Don't be put-off by the fact that he's writing mostly about patent (and other intellectual-property) law as it applies to software - exactly the same law and arguments apply to the world of genetics, and our food supply, with far, far more dire consequences.

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