Gene Cartels

Gene Cartels

Biotech Patents in the Age of Free Trade

Luigi Palombi

Starting with the 13th century, this book explores how patents have been used as an economic protectionist tool, developing and evolving to the point where thousands of patents have been ultimately granted not over inventions, but over isolated or purified biological materials. DNA, invented by no man and once thought to be ‘free to all men and reserved exclusively to none’, has become cartelised in the hands of multinational corporations. The author questions whether the continuing grant of patents can be justified when they are now used to suppress, rather than promote, research and development in the life sciences.


Baruch S. Blumberg

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


The patent system and its predecessors date back to the earliest period of the Common Law. British practices applied to their North American colonies and the US constitution of 1787 included a provision for the granting of patents. Benjamin Franklin was not only a politician, diplomat, soldier, and public official but also a very productive inventor and successful entrepreneur. He managed to franchise his printing business at an early age, giving him the time and the resources to pursue his interest in science and in national and world affairs. He was a member of the US Constitutional Convention and is believed to have encouraged the inclusion of the patent provision into the Constitution; he himself never patented his own many inventions. Thomas Jefferson, initially as Secretary of State, had responsibilities for the patent law. He was skeptical, but in time appreciated the potential value of linking the possibilities of personal profit with the introduction of new and applicable ideas that would benefit society in general. The system was open, relatively inexpensive, and available to all, no matter their social status. When Franklin founded the American Philosophical Society (‘Philosophical’ in the 18th century sense of ‘natural philosophy’, that is, science) he emphasized the discovery of the new: All new-discovered Plants, herbs, Trees, Roots, etc. their Virtues, uses, etc; Methods of propagating them. . . .New Methods of Curing or Preventing Diseases. New and useful improvements in any Branch of Mathematics; New Discoveries in Chemistry, such as Improvements in...