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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.
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Chapter 2: Patents and their Use in Economic Warfare

Luigi Palombi


It is nonsense to talk about ‘crushing’ Germany. . . . The best thing that could happen would be that when the two sides are seen to be evenly matched America should step in and impose terms on both. Lloyd George, British Minister of Munitions to CP Scott Editor, The Manchester Guardian, December 1915 Between 1850 and 1874 the British Empire so clearly dominated world trade that it even toyed with the idea of removing the patent system altogether. With no obvious contenders for her position British policy-makers could afford to be magnanimous and proposed lowering British tariffs, opening Britain’s borders to its trading partners, and seeking easier access to the markets of its trading partners on the basis that free trade promoted domestic prosperity. However that policy began to change in the wake of the declaration of the German Empire, on 18 January 1871, where Wilhelm I,1 the King of Prussia, was proclaimed the first German Emperor and Otto von Bismarck2 its first Chancellor. The first cracks in the British Empire’s industrial fortunes started to appear as the world went into recession in early 1873 – a recession brought on by the disruption to world capital markets caused by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and widened with Germany’s industrial ascendancy during that decade with her imperialist foreign policies of Weltpolitik (German: world policy) and Mitteleuropa (German: Central Europe). The latter in particular posed a direct threat to the British Empire’s hegemony. It was Germany’s capacity for industrial innovation that really...

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