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 9: Still Life with Stem Cells: Patent Law and Human Embryos

Matthew Rimmer

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


In a beguiling and sometimes disturbing collection of art works, the Australian artist Patricia Piccinini has explored social and ethical attitudes to scientific developments in stem cell research and therapeutic cloning.1 Her painting of a child playing with strange blobs of humanoid matter, Still Life with Stem Cells, was inspired by her first sight of stem cells pulsating in a petri dish: Last year I saw one of those extraordinary things, which reminds me that what I make is not so strange or far-fetched. As usual it was in a petri dish. This petri dish contained a small layer of cells, a thin skin of biological matter that was pulsating to rapid but steady rhythm. This was the first time that I had really seen stem cells. These ones had been differentiated into heart cells and they were doing what heart cells do; beating – flatly, geometrically, pointlessly. Stems cells are base cellular matter before it is differentiated into specific kinds of cells like skin, liver, bone or brain. Pure unexpressed potential, they contain the possibility for transformation into anything.2 The image, Still Life with Stem Cells, is an arresting one: it captures both a curiosity and an enthusiasm for scientific breakthroughs in the field of stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, together with a horror and revulsion at manipulating essential human biological matter. There has been a strong push by stem cell researchers, biotechnology companies and pharmaceutical drug manufacturers to obtain intellectual property rights in...

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