Intellectual Property and Biotechnology

Intellectual Property and Biotechnology

Biological Inventions

Matthew Rimmer

This book documents and evaluates the dramatic expansion of intellectual property law to accommodate various forms of biotechnology from micro-organisms, plants, and animals to human genes and stem cells. It makes a unique theoretical contribution to the controversial public debate over the commercialization of biological inventions.

Chapter 5: The Book of Life: Patent Law and the Human Genome Project

Matthew Rimmer

Subjects: environment, biotechnology, law - academic, biotechnology and pharmaceutical law, intellectual property law


You are on a mission to discover Why the human heart still slows When divers break the surface Why mermaids still swim in our dreams. (Michael Symmons Roberts, ‘Mapping the Genome’)1 The Human Genome Project represented the first foray into ‘Big Science’ by the medical and the biological science communities.2 The initiative garnered a great of deal of both public and private support. The Human Genome Project was a grand scientific enterprise which attracted both hyperbole and ridicule alike. The project was lauded as ‘the moon shot of the life sciences’, the ‘holy grail of man’, ‘the code of codes’ and ‘the book of life’.3 Francis Collins, a leader of the public consortium behind the Human Genome Project, observed: As you will hear today, this Book of Life is actually at least three books. It’s a history book: a narrative of the journey of our species through time. It’s a shop manual: an incredibly detailed blueprint for building every human cell. And it’s a transformative textbook of medicine: with insights that will give health care providers immense new powers to treat, prevent and cure disease. We are delighted by what we’ve already seen in these books. But we are also profoundly humbled by the privilege of turning the pages that describe the miracle of human life, written in the mysterious language of all the ages, the language of God.4 Such lofty rhetoric and sanctimony has also received scorn and scepticism. Richard Lewontin has sought to debunk the pretensions...

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