Court to Decide if Human Genes Can Be Patented. So it seems a group of middle aged to very aged lawyers will decide the decades long Myriad Genetics saga. My position on this issue is simple: if you are going to award patents, they must be awarded to acts of engineering, not discoveries of science. See Genomics Law Report for more well informed commentary.
One example of cyclicality that continues to today is the practice of law. The basic principles of Roman private law and the complaints that people made about lawyers and litigation were remarkably similar in the 300s to what they are today.
In the 6th century Justinian the Great sponsored a compilation of the body of law which was being widely practiced in the Roman Empire at the time, what is now known as the Corpus Juris Civilis. This is not an abstract or obscure point in the history of modern law:
The present name of Justinian’s codification was only adopted in the 16th century, when it was printed in 1583 by Dionysius Gothofredus under the title “Corpus Juris Civilis”. The legal thinking behind the Corpus Juris Civilis served as the backbone of the single largest law reform of the modern age, the Napoleonic Code, which marked the abolition of feudalism.
Imagine that the astronomical models of Ptolemy served as a basis for modern astrophysics! There’s only a vague family resemblance in this case. The difference is that law is fundamentally a regulation of human interaction, and the broad outlines of human nature remain the same as they were during the time of Justinian and Theodora. In this way law resembles many humanities, which don’t seem to exhibit the same progressivity of science. Our cultures may evolve, but there are constraints imposed by our nature as human beings. Human universals in humanistic enterprises speak to us across the ages. The story of Joseph and his brothers in in Genesis speaks to us because it is not too unfamiliar from our own. The meditations of Arjuna are not incomprehensible to the modern, even if they come from the imagination of Indians living thousands of years in the past. The questions and concerns of the good life are fundamentally invariant because of the preconditions of our biology.
We’re in a brave new world when it comes to our conception of property. I’m on the skeptical side when it comes to the current aggregate long term utility of IP law (I think the value of property rights may be overwhelmed by the abuse which large corporations are inflicting upon the spirit of the laws). But I thought I’d pass on what everyone is talking about in relation to Twitpic, Why I abandoned Twitpic photo-sharing:
– 1. If someone wants to use my photo commercially, they need to ask Twitpic (but not me) and then credit Twitpic (but not me).
– 2. Twitpic can use or change my photos, in any, way without asking me first.
The financial rationale for this sort of behavior on the part of firms providing free services is pretty straightforward. If you want some level of control and ownership of what you produce, you’ll probably have to pay for services which grant you these liberties in the future, at least if you want to utilize the cloud.
For the record, I don’t mind if people somehow make money with my genotype. But I would be very skeptical of individuals who somehow assert exclusive ownership. When you grant exclusive rights to an idea, an abstraction, it isn’t surprising that individuals will begin to extract rents.