Corporations don’t have to wait for the SOPA bill to pass to start censoring the Internet, it turns out. Under a ruling just handed down by a federal judge in Nevada, hundreds of websites accused by Chanel of selling counterfeit goods are having their domains confiscated and their names removed from search engine results, with scanty evidence of the accusation’s validity. Read More
What’s the News: Whether genes can be property is an ongoing controversy in the world of biotechnology, and last week saw the latest court battle in that war: Upon appeal, a suit brought by the ACLU charging that genes aren’t products of human ingenuity and thus cannot be patented was settled largely in favor of Myriad Genetics, the biotech company that has patents on two BRCA genes. The genes are linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, and plaintiffs charged that Myriad’s exclusive test for the genes kept patients from getting second opinions.
A detailed description of the court’s reasoning can be found over at Ars Technica. But for those of you who are thinking, what? someone else can own my genes?, chew on this: About 20% of human genes are patented or have patents associated with them, according to a comprehensive analysis. Here’s why.
If you talk smack on Yelp, it’s coming down.
What’s the News: Sign here, here, here, and here—that’s the first thing your doctor’s office asks you to do. Chances are, you’re not reading the forms too closely. But tucked in there might be a little clause that goes something like this: “all your online reviews are belong to us.” And if you refuse to sign it, they’ll refuse to see you.
Doctors and dentists have started including this language, provided by an organization called Medical Justice, in their releases in an effort to keep negative online reviews from going up on sites like Yelp. But, as Ars Technica found, there are about a million different ways that this is both silly and pointless.
What’s the News: As a European court looks poised to ban the patenting of technologies using human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), a group of prominent scientists has issued a warning: regenerative medicine is never going to leave the lab if no one can make money on it.
A uPrint 3D printer in action
What’s the News: Earlier this year, designer Ulrich Schwanitz, a Dutch designer, made a real model of an “impossible” object—the Penrose triangle—using a 3D printer; he then started selling these models, through a company that printed them, for $70 apiece. When another designer figured out how to make a 3D blueprint for the shape, and put it up on Thingiverse, an open-source site for printable objects, Schwanitz lodged a copyright complaint against Thingiverse.
Although Schwanitz soon rescinded the complaint, it was the first instance where 3D printing ran smack up against copyright law. ars technica has an excellent piece looking at intellectual property issues that are likely to arise as 3D printing becomes better, cheaper, and more widespread, letting consumers create all kinds of stuff at home.
The nation’s political focus this week is on the plodding confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan to become a Supreme Court justice. But if you need a break from choreographed political spectacle, it’s a good time to remember that the man she would replace, Justice John Paul Stevens, casts a long shadow over science and tech.
Ars Technica revisits Justice Stevens’ legacy—he was a onetime Navy cryptographer who helped Internet freedom by ruling against parts of the Communications Decency Act and opposing software patents. And if you still have drawers full of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes you taped off TV, you have Stevens’ decision in Sony v. Universal to thank for that (as well as setting the precedent that stopped the music industry from suppressing mp3 players).
In that 1984 case, the Supreme Court came just one vote short of banning the Betamax VCR on the grounds that taping television shows off the air was an infringement of copyright. Justice Stevens wrote for a 5-4 majority that “time shifting”—the practice of recording shows for later viewing—was a fair use under copyright law. Stevens concluded that manufacturers were not liable for their customers’ infringement if their devices were capable of “substantial non-infringing use.” He noted that Congress was free to amend copyright law to give Hollywood control over VCR technology, but concluded that the courts shouldn’t do so unilaterally [Ars Technica].
You, sir, shall be missed.
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DISCOVER: The Intellectual Property Fight That Could Kill Millions
Image: Library of Congress
Here in the United States, people are all atwitter about Craig Venter’s announcement last week of a new “synthetic cell,” and whether it constitutes creating life or simply a nifty new step in genetic engineering. Across the pond in the U.K., however, there are increasing rumblings of a more practical matter: Whether the patents that Venter is seeking to protect his work will bring a chill to genetic engineering research elsewhere.
Dr Venter’s [team] has applied for patents on the methods it used to create the new organism, nicknamed Synthia, by transferring a bacterial genome built from scratch into the shell of another bacterium. Synthia’s genetic code contains four DNA “watermarks”, including famous quotations and the names of the scientists behind the research, that could be used to detect cases of unauthorised copying [The Times].
Nobel winner John Sulston is the main man sounding the alarm (pdf); he argues that Venter is trying to obtain a “monopoly” on a range of genetic engineering techniques, which would prevent other researchers from freely experimenting with those methods. He’s also a familiar adversary to Venter. The two butted heads a decade ago when scientists were rushing to sequence the human genome.
Craig Venter led a private sector effort which was to have seen charges for access to the information. John Sulston was part of a government and charity-backed effort to make the genome freely available to all scientists [BBC News].
In a far-reaching judgment that could have major implications for the biotech industry, a federal judge in Manhattan has struck down patents related to two human genes linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancers, BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Myriad Genetics held the patents, and women who want to find out if they have a high genetic risk for these cancers have to get a test sold by Myriad, which costs more than $3,000. Plaintiffs in the case had said Myriad’s monopoly on the test, conferred by the gene patents, kept prices high and prevented women from getting a confirmatory test from another laboratory [The New York Times]. In his decision, United States District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet found that the company’s patents were invalid because the genes are “found in nature,” and products of nature can’t be patented. In essence, he agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that the genetic code contained in each human being’s cells shouldn’t be private property.
Tuesday’s decision, if upheld, could have wide repercussions for the multi-billion dollar biotech industry, which is built on more than 40,000 gene patents. Already, about 20 percent of the human genes have been patented. The decision, however, is not binding on other federal courts and other judges may or may not abide by it. But it does the set the stage for years of litigation over other gene patents. Myriad Genetics plans to appeal the judgment.