it’s so delightful to read those two areas of law in a single news article. The ACLU is suing to invalidate a patent on a gene. Yaay Chris Hansen. (Psst. They’re also patenting algorithms and business methods and even tax strategies.)
see below for update 12/19
Obama has appointed the next US Trade Representative, current U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA 31); see also Becerra’s House site. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s going to be in the
pocket of tank for Hollywood, just as prior USTR’s have been.
A few notes from some fast research (“googling”):
* He’s a Dem from LA. That’s almost saying enough right there.
* The Washington Times (crazy! but it’s what news.google.com pointed me to) reports:
With strong ties to Hollywood, Becerra fought to have the film industry included in the $137 billion tax bill. He wanted to stem the exodus of film production overseas and to Canada with tax-code changes.
* Google shows him on many, many events with, for, or about Hollywood, P2P, etc.
* He’s taken money from copyright maximalist PACs, e.g., $3000, Jan-June 1995, which went waaay up over the next decade: $38,750, 2005-06 (plus $3000 printing, for a total of $41,750 from copyright industries, against $12,000 from telcos & Internet companies). In ’07-’08, he took $47,500 from Hollywood, plus $5,000 from printing & publishing. Cost-of-lobbying increases, I guess. open secrets
But, while it may be bad on the copyright-front (did we expect anything good?), it’s not necessarily all bad. Like I’ve noticed before, Hollywood copyrightists who can’t see the public interest in copyright can definitely see it in patent law. Becerra cosponsored the “Genomic Research & Accessibility Act” to ban gene patents. Michael Crichton, Patenting Life, NYT, 2/13/2007
Last Friday, Xavier Becerra, a Democrat of California, and Dave Weldon, a Republican of Florida, sponsored the Genomic Research and Accessibility Act, to ban the practice of patenting genes found in nature. Mr. Becerra has been careful to say the bill does not hamper invention, but rather promotes it. He’s right. This bill will fuel innovation, and return our common genetic heritage to us.
He’s also done some pro-librarian work, for example, seeking to add librarians to loan forgiveness plans, e.g., by introducing the Librarian Education & Development Act of 2003 (HR 2674).LIS News 2004/6/9
And of course in other areas — human rights not dealing with access to knowledge — he’s pretty good. So, the task is to get the access to knowledge message to him …
update 12/19 So Becerra turned down the job on Monday (12/15), and instead Obama has appointed Ron Kirk, former Mayor of Dallas, and supported by tech. tech daily dose, from private list
The current New Yorker (2008/5/12) is chock-full of good stuff:
* Malcolm Gladwell, In the Air, New Yorker. link from MC on closed mailing list
Invention is part of zeitgeist. Many people come up with the same ideas at the same moment — true in her field, my partner says, and it looks true from any study of the history of science.
Also I liked the section toward the end about how the practice of naming discoveries after the putative discoverer is silly at best.
* Tim Wu, Fan Feud, covering the J.K. Rowling / lexicon suit and hearing.
People have called my attention to a few more copyright & related matters lately:
* Darren Barefoot, who did the project “GetAFirstLife.com“, received a hilarious anti-cease-and-desist in its comments section, purportedly from Ginsu Yoon, VP of Linden Lab (Second Life’s company). Or as Peter Hirtle put it when passing it along, a “proceed and permitted” letter. More P&Ps, please! And fewer C&Ds.
* The recent movie “Dodgeball” hit the courts on a copyright infringement suit; the NYT wrote up the story, hitting some of the colorful details as the court tried to distinguish coincidence from copying, and substantial similarity from generic scenes a faire. (Would it kill the NYT to link to the freakin’ case for readers? I’ll dig it up and post it.)
* In addition to the RIAA’s stepped up “enforcement” at college campuses, the RIAA is also now attacking open wireless networks. (See Wired News blog.) A friend was asking me about this: What’s in it for the RIAA? Are they really trying to deter individuals? Well, to some extent, but principally they’re just trying to keep the issue in the limelight. It doesn’t matter if any individual enforcement action is effective, or if they get bad press; as far as they’re concerned, there’s no such thing as bad press on this issue. The more press on copyright “infringement”, the better. They want to create copyright anxiety (“copyright awareness”).
* And, last but not least, an uplifting story about Bent Skovmand — unfortunately it’s an obituary, so some might not get the “uplifting” part. But what’s uplifting is that this person spent his life seeing a problem and working to solve it. That is a success story. Every time I think of the waste of space and destruction of human energy represented by the current occupant of the White House, I’m going to try to dedicate an equal amount of time to the inspirational life of Bent Skovmand.
In case you’re wondering, the NYT obit is great, and Wikipedia’s entry is stubby but accurate. Basically Skovmand was an agricultural scientist who worked to preserve plant diversity and access. He was concerned about the monoculture techniques of modern industrial farming, even as he worked with farmers and governments around the world to help foster the Green Revolution. Ultimately he began to collect and archive seeds of all sorts of strains of food and agricultural crops, developing a project called the doomsday vault — a warehouse for agricultural crops in an island off of Norway, heavily safeguarded and secured against all manner of natural and human-made catastrophes. The vault will contain at least three million crop seeds.
In keeping with his general concern for openness and human access to genetic diversity, Skovmand critiqued the propertization of genetic information: copyrighting genes is “like copyrighting each and every word in ‘Hamlet’, and saying no one can use any word used in ‘Hamlet’ without paying the author.” According to the NYT, he gave away his own data on CDs, rather than trying to control it.
So — Bent Skovmand. May more of us have the opportunity to lead such fulfilling and satisfying and productive lives.
It’s great to see more info about the rumored the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library — which will publish India’s traditional knowledge:
Indian scientists say the country has been a victim of what they describe as “bio-piracy” for a long time.
“When we put out this encyclopaedia in the public domain, no one will be able to claim that these medicines or therapies are their inventions. Till now, we have not done the needful to protect our traditional wealth,” says Ajay Dua, a senior bureaucrat in the federal commerce ministry.
[I]n most of the developed nations like United States, “prior existing knowledge” is only recognised if it is published in a journal or is available on a database – not if it has been passed down through generations of oral and folk traditions.
The irony here is that India has suffered even though its traditional knowledge, as in China, has been documented extensively.
But information about traditional medicine has never been culled from their texts, translated and put out in the public domain.
A little confusion between “publication” and “public domain” …
No wonder then that India has been embroiled in some high-profile patent litigation in the past decade – the government spent some $6m alone in fighting legal battles against the patenting of turmeric and neem-based medicines.
In 1995, the US Patent Office granted a patent on the wound-healing properties of turmeric.
Indian scientists protested and fought a two-year-long legal battle to get the patent revoked.
Last year, India won a 10-year-long battle at the European Patent Office against a patent granted on an anti-fungal product, derived from neem, by successfully arguing that the medicinal neem tree is part of traditional Indian knowledge.
In 1998 the US Patent Office granted patent to a local company for new strains of rice similar to basmati, which has been grown for centuries in the Himalayan foothills of north-west India and Pakistan and has become popular internationally. After a prolonged legal battle, the patent was revoked four years ago.
The rice patent was new to me. Apparently, we will have to document not just every single preexisting medicinal use, but every single preexisting bit of human knowledge, to prevent companies from trying to enclose human knowledge.
Then they mention the yoga case (now settled favorably for open source yoga advocates):
And, in the US, an expatriate Indian yoga teacher has claimed copyright on a sequence of 36 yoga asanas, or postures.
So far today I am thrice annoyed:
- Multiple Double Standards: NY Sex Offenders Get Viagra [5/23] Jesus. Get over Viagra already. What is with the guys running the guvmint? “According to [NY State Comptroller Alan] Hevesi, the problem is an unintended consequence of a 1998 directive from federal officials telling states that Medicaid prescription programs must include Viagra.” Who are these mysterious unnamed federal officials? Could they be … men? And how did they feel about birth control? Last time I looked, the federal government & states like Missouri were trying to make it
hardermore difficult for women to get family planning, including birth control.
Look, I support prisoners’ rights, and adequate medical care is a right. The problem isn’t prisoners, who will get tossed to the curb by any politician trying to prove they’re tough on crime. The problem is with the double standard that treats Viagra, a recreational drug designed for men, differently (and better) than sex toys or birth control, both of which most directly benefit women.
Ought I also point out the role of Big Pharma, which still holds viable patents on Viagra & similar drugs, but which has generic competition for many birth control formulas?
And finally, as long as we’re on the topc of “recreational drugs”, compare: “Since it was approved by the FDA in 1998, about 16 million men have tried Viagra, according to Pfizer.” (1) and “Over 83 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at least once.” (2) … And health risks: 60-120 deaths directly related to ingestion of Viagra (3, 4) vs. 0 deaths directly related to ingestion of marijuana (5).
The Filibuster Compromise. Salon.com’s Tim Grieve says, patronizingly, that “if we’re confused” about who won, we should look to the wingnuts frothing over the compromise to assure ourselves that the Democrats won. Well, whoop-de-fucking-doo. The Democrats did indeed win exactly what they wanted to win: preservation of the judicial filibuster. How did they win this brave victory of exactly what polls show that most Americans want? By giving up whatever principles they claimed to have had that inspired the filibusters to begin with. This leaves us exactly nowhere, except with 3 more life appointments on the bench, and a new set of “but he said” whines for the next round.
Double Standards, Again: In Montgomery, a Catholic HS Girl who’s pregnant was refused permission to walk with her graduating class [St. Jude Educational Institute Class of 2005], although the boy who made her pregnant was allowed to participate. She walked on her own, anyway, but her mother and aunt were then “escorted out of the church by police”. The Red Hot Chili Peppers said it best: Catholic School Girls Rule. As for the school’s actions, it’s a Roman Catholic HS, a private entity, so I sort of don’t care, but then again, I sort of do, because the double standard pisses me off.
Now, I have it on good authority that the school system in Montgomery sucks, so I understand what might drive parents to take their children out of the public system and pay to send them to a Catholic HS. A little reminder about just why there are so many private “religious” schools in Alabama: Desegregation and racism. Once public schools were forced to integrate, many racist white folk took their children out of public schools and into a horde of new private “religious” schools. With so many white folks sending their kids to private schools, funding for public schools has never gone anywhere — Alabama continues to use its sales tax to fund its public schools, leaving that poor benighted state with one of the highest sales taxes in the nation. (School funding is shared between state & city/counties, so local governments have incentive to keep sales taxes high — in Huntsville, AL, for instance, the sales tax is up to 10%, and no exceptions for food, you uppity poor people!) Even with a ridiculously high sales tax, the school system is still really crappy & under-funded (6, 7). So you can understand parents being willing to send their children to be indoctrinated in private schools, especially Catholic schools which were usually set up independently of desegregation. So I’m sorry for the family which did the best they could for their daughter, who was then treated like shit by the backwards-ass Catholic school.
Oh, Alabama, I mock you but you make me sad.