FOSEP Book Club: Who Owns You?: The Corporate Gold Rush to Patent Your Genes, By David Koepsell

We met last week to discuss Who Owns You? at the Pub at Third Place in Ravenna. The book itself is rather repetitive and would have benefited from some exercise in brevity. With my complaint out of the way, I think that Koepsell did a decent job framing a discussion in the policy concerns of patents on genes by providing primers in the areas of philosophy, science and law. After all, the expertise of scientists, lawyers, judges, and business folk are not highly inclusive. Being outside of my expertise, I particularly enjoyed the history of genetics research (names, dates, experiments) and the recap of the major court rulings which set the precedent for current gene patent laws.

Koepsell starts off with an in depth philosophical discussion about the ontology of property rights, which leads into the discussion on patent laws. These first few chapters of the book were a bit hard to cozy up to, but I think it is absolutely a necessary component for framing his discussion. So if you’re prone toward day dreaming, don’t do it until the later chapters. In the first chapter, he develops several possible views on genes and what, if any, property they involve: are they [real/movable] property, intellectual property [ideas], or common property? Chapter two expands on these ideas; each property type has potential benefits and costs.

Koepsell makes it apparent that te discovery/isolation of genes is not a patentable work under the intent of the patent laws, because the mere act of discovery does not add value to theh original substance. And because there is no value is added to the original matter, it does not create any natural law property claims. While this casts extreme doubts on the current method of rewarding efforts in the development of genetics science and technology, the resolution is not made as to how it should be handled. However, I don’t think we could expect a single author to rise out of this apparent mess with the silver bullet. Rather, I think the intent of this book is to bolster a knowledgeable discussion among society, law makers, and judiciary, so that we can make decisions the produce the largest benefit to society while maintaining personal, private and property rights.

After our upcoming General Membership Meeting, I’ll be sending out a request for book ideas for the next book club discussion. If your not a member, or you think you are a member but are not receiving the fosep_members email list, see the “Join Us” section of the web site for how to get connected.

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