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.

Chapter 4: The Patent Systems of Continental Europe

Luigi Palombi

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


When the Germans think of the future, its neighbours inevitably remember the past. Michael Stürmer, ‘Deutchlands Rolle in Europa’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 28 November 1991 By the thirteenth century the practice of bestowing exclusive trading privileges, or privilegi as they were known in Italy, upon artisans, craftsmen and tradesmen and their representative guilds was well established. These privilegi, granted by royal prerogative or by the rulers of city-state Republics, gave their holders the exclusive right to work their art, craft and trade within the confines of these city-states, thereby harbouring them from competition.1 These monopolies nurtured a symbiosis of protectionism. The ruling classes had come to understand that by bestowing privilegi, not only with respect to the importation of raw materials such as silk, cotton and wool into their realms, but also with respect to the kinds of work performed by the people who held the secrets of how to use those materials and the tools and machinery which they employed in the production of finished goods such as sail cloth and brocade, they and their territories and kingdoms were wealthier as a result. It followed that those who held the trade secrets of the State were jealously protected, and criminal and financial penalties were imposed to encourage them not to emigrate. The Piedmontese for instance passed laws that made industrial espionage punishable by death. John Lombe,2 who started the silk milling industry in England in the eighteenth century after spending two years in Piedmont learning all...

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