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Daydreams & Nightmares of Intellectual Property

Posted by Lesandre on

Most folks aren't aware that you can file a patent to claim a life form as your own invention.

Opponents of biological patents argue that these legal instruments treat life as a commodity and claim ownership that is due to Mother Nature. It's called biopiracy.

Big Biotech, among them Monsanto (creators of Agent Orange, saccharine, Roundup/glyphosate) and DuPont (makers of automotive body paints), hold such patents on GMOs (genetically modified organisms) which are rife in the American food supply but labeled or banned in 60 other countries throughout the world, including the European Union. 

In 1995 the University of Mississippi Medical Centre was granted a patent for the use of turmeric to heal wounds, even though this powdered rhizome has been used in Ayurvedic medicine and South Asian cuisine for thousands of years. 

Turmeric By Simon A. Eugster (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In 1996 The Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) in India requested the US Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO) to revoke the turmeric patent on the grounds of "existing prior art" (or rather traditional knowledge and use). The patent was revoked in 1997. But if it hadn't, you could be sued for infringement if caught growing your own. 

The US government received a patent on the composition of the Ebola virus. Why would a government need to claim invention of Ebola and protect its commercial use? I would love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments!

If Uncle Sam and Big Biotech can patent life, why can't everybody else?

I submit to you Felis catus, the common cat, heretofore known as the Purr Pillow. A self-heating, furry pillow that purrs you to sleep. Smooth and extra-fuzzy models available in all colors, patterns, and sizes.

Fozzie Purr Pillow

Fozzie is my preferred model of Purr Pillow. It's obvious when it's dirty and needs washing.

If Purr Pillows controlled human access to food, water, energy, health, or had the potential to rake in billions of profits, you can be sure that somebody would already have their hand in it.  

This sort of intellectual property paranoia haunted us early on in our Rub 'n Restore® venture.

The magic formula behind our vinyl and leather dye was developed by our friend JP. He sold us this "technology", but it did not come with a patent, and protecting it became a concern. 

Do we patent? If so, the formula itself, the process by which it can be mixed and applied, or both?

A friend that developed and manufactures a groovy telescope focuser highly sought by the world's preeminent astronomers spent $8,000 with an attorney -- twice -- before he was granted the patent. His story is not uncommon.

Another friend, a paralegal, was no less discouraging. In acquiring a patent, you publish the information, opening the door for nearly identical knock-offs. The real problem, he pointed out, comes in defending the patent. Any behemoth can infringe on your rights. If you take them to court, you'll probably need $100,000 to defend your patent. If you lose in court, the patent essentially goes to the violators. You paid to file the patent and published your secrets, saving them patent attorney fees and the cost to reverse engineer it. In the end, all you have left is your brand name and proof that you were first to market.

We settled for a trademark. Until now, I've never shared my pipe dream of the Purr Pillow. I'd probably have to publish the entire cat genome. Talk about an engineering project! It might just be easier to sew some fake fur onto an electric blanket and stuff a pillow with a little purring motor inside. Give it a cute face and ears. It might be a big seller, seeing that it doesn't require a litterbox like the living model.

Such are the daydreams and nightmares of intellectual property.

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