1.Reclaiming Commons - Old and New
2.One-Fifth of Human Genes Have Been Patented, Study Reveals

1.Reclaiming Commons - Old and New
John Hepburn, ZNet

EXCERPTS ONLY: ...Many of the important struggles over commons today relate to cutting edge technologies in information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology. In times gone by, land was the primary basis of economic wealth. Hence the importance of controlling land. Today, the basis of wealth in our economy has shifted and continues to shift. We moved from the Agricultural revolution in the 18th century (accompanied by the enclosure of common lands) to the industrial revolution in the 19th century (accompanied by the development of a patent system for intellectual property), to the information revolution in the 20th century (with an expansion of the patent and intellectual property system) and now the biotechnology and nanotechnology revolutions - accompanied by patents on life and now patents on matter.

As the basis of economic wealth has become more mobile and more global, the struggle over the commons has also become more global. The global nature of information and trade, as well as the emergence of global environmental problems such as climate change and the hole in the ozone layer, create another layer of complexity and abstraction in terms of the management, enclosure or defense of commons...

In 1873, Loius Pasteur was awarded US patent No.141,072 for a strain of yeast - the first of several patents for life forms. However the patent was for the use of the organism within a process, not just the organism itself.

In 1972, a researcher with General Electric filed for a patent in the US on a genetically engineered soil micro-organism that was useful for cleaning oil spills. Finally, after various rejections and appeals by the parts of the US patent office, in 1980, the US Supreme court, in a 5:4 ruling (Diamond vs Chakrabarty), affirmed that a living, human-modified organism is patentable. In 1988, the first patent was granted on a living animal - the Harvard Oncomouse.

The extension of patents to cover living organisms - and parts thereof - has laid the groundwork for the next big heist. The biodiversity that the capitalist industrialist system has spent the last 100 or so years trying frantically to destroy, is now regarded as the basis for the next industrial revolution and is rapidly increasing in value. The framework for enclosure is in place and our genetic heritage - the biological diversity that is and that sustains the richness of life on planet earth - is now up for grabs. Research teams of some of the world's largest corporations are scouring the surface of the earth for potentially valuable genetic property and taking patents on anything from cell lines from indigenous people in Papua New Guinea, to seeds of staple food crops.

Food is an interesting example. Most people don't really think of food as a common. To be truthful, most people in our culture don't really think about where their food comes from at all. But most of the basic foods that we eat today have been developed over thousands of years by peasant farmers in different parts of the world. It's true to say that food grows on trees, but most foods didn't just develop by accident - they were actively bred. The genetic diversity of our foods is really a common. It has been managed through reciprocal relationships between farmers for millennia - growing, developing and sharing seeds.

The combination of plant breeder rights and patents on life has enabled food to be at least partially enclosed and privatized. The development of genetically engineered foods and in particular, "terminator technology" (breeding sterile seeds) is the extreme example...

2.One-Fifth of Human Genes Have Been Patented, Study Reveals
Stefan Lovgren
National Geographic News, October 13, 2005

A new study shows that 20 percent of human genes have been patented in the United States, primarily by private firms and universities.

The study, which is reported this week in the journal Science is the first time that a detailed map has been created to match patents to specific physical locations on the human genome.

Researchers can patent genes because they are potentially valuable research tools, useful in diagnostic tests or to discover and produce new drugs.

"It might come as a surprise to many people that in the U.S. patent system human DNA is treated like other natural chemical products," said Fiona Murray, a business and science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and a co-author of the study.

"An isolated DNA sequence can be patented in the same manner that a new medicine, purified from a plant, could be patented if an inventor identifies a [new] application."

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Gene patents were central to the biotech boom of the 1980s and 1990s. The earliest gene patents were obtained around 1978 on the gene for human growth hormone.

The human genome project and the introduction of rapid sequencing techniques brought a deluge of new genetic information and many new patents. Yet there has been little comprehensive research about the extent of gene patenting.

The new study reveals that more than 4,000 genes, or 20 percent of the almost 24,000 human genes, have been claimed in U.S. patents.

Of the patented genes, about 63 percent are assigned to private firms and 28 percent are assigned to universities.

The top patent assignee is Incyte, a Palo Alto, California-based drug company whose patents cover 2,000 human genes.

"Gene patents give their owners property rights over gene sequences - for example in a diagnostic test, as a test for the efficacy of a new drug, or in the production of therapeutic proteins," Murray said.