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Gene Cartels Biotech Patents in the Age of Free Trade

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.
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Chapter 1: The Early History of Anglo-American Patent Systems

Luigi Palombi


1. The early history of AngloAmerican patent systems The exercise of crown privileges, some of which created monopolies, was recorded on the Calendar of Patent Rolls as early as 1202, and ‘letters patent’ (that is, open letters instructing the public about a range of topics) were granted by English monarchs to create monopolies with respect to the provision of goods within their realm. The Calendar records that one of these monopolies was awarded under the authority of Edward III1 by his son, John of Gaunt 1st Duke of Lancaster,2 to John Pecche, a former mayor of London. The monopoly to Pecche was arranged by Richard Lyons, a merchant and alderman of London, who was in the business of financing the Duke’s rather extravagant lifestyle. In this case, the Duke, in flagrant disregard of a Parliamentary ban on its sale, arranged for Pecche to be granted letters patent over the sale of sweet wine in London, but on condition that Pecche pay the King a royalty based on the volume of sweet wine sold. Naturally the Duke pocketed the royalty; but by 1376, with Edward,3 the Duke’s eldest brother and heir to the throne, dead, the King gravely ill and Richard,4 the 8-year-old heir apparent, under the influence of his uncle, Parliament had to demonstrate its authority. This it did by charging Lyons, who was alleged to have unfairly used his monopoly to extract exorbitant prices for sweet wine, with ‘engrossing’5 and Pecche, who was alleged to...

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