south-north development monitor SUNS [Email Edition]

SUNS #4436, Tuesday, 18 May 1999


Trade: Patenting Life is Owning Life (Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, Geneva)

Trade: US Steel industry loses first round (IPS, Washington)

Caribbean: That banana issue again (IPS, Basseterre)

Trade: ACP, EU negotiations drag on at snail's pace (IPS, Harare)

Finance: IMF's crisis prevention off to shaky start (IPS, Washington)

United Nations: Security Council in tug-of-war over Kosovo (IPS, New York)

Kosovo: Peace activists call for end to NATO bombing (IPS, The Hague)

Finance: The military's silent role in globalisation (IPS, The Hague)


Some excerpts from selected articles:

Trade: Patenting Life is Owning Life

by Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher*

Geneva, 17 May (TWN) -- The system of patenting was developed for machines. It is being forced onto living things. Most of the problems of patenting life arise from this fact.

Imagine that I invent a new kind of carburettor that economises on fuel. If I patent it, is the rest of the car also patented? When I patent an organism because I claim to have invented a gene, do I patent also the whole organism? Conversely can I patent a whole organism because I claim to have been inventive in the context of one of its genes, or one of its traits?

If I have invented a carburettor would I not be able to scale it up or to scale it down to make it fit a lorry or a motor cycle? When I do this would I not know beforehand what the effect would be on the lorry or on the motor cycle? When I introduce a gene into one organism or another do I find that its impact is the same as I predict it to be in both organisms?

But whilst I create my carburettor out of materials that have nothing to do with delivering measured amounts of petroleum, I introduce genes or traits into an organism only if they already exist as such in another organism or organisms.

Can I patent a car because I fit it with a different kind of carburettor from another car? Therefore breeding and genetic engineering reorganise something existing; they do not create anything de novo.

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