Monday, October 24, 2005

You are 20% owned by corporations

According to a recent study, large corporations have patented about one-fifth of your genetic structure. That human DNA can be patented at all is ludicrous bordering on the offensive. If ever there was prior art...

What concerns me about this is that a DNA sequence is not an invention. It is not a creation or a process. It is merely the way things work in the human body. Apparently, whoever figures it out in sufficient detail first is granted a patent on the use of that knowledge from then on. Just because large corporations stand to make a lot of money by preventing competitors from using that knowledge to produce competing drugs or diagnostics, that doesn't lend the idea of allowing them to patent your DNA sequences merit. (Quite the opposite, in fact.)

What this patenting means is that even if you know exactly what your own personal entire genetic sequence was, and you knew exactly which genes were relevant to, say, determining your susceptibility to a certain cancer, you wouldn't be able to combine that information to determine your personal susceptibility to that cancer, because a corporation has claimed the right to examine your DNA sequence for that purpose. From now on. For you to access and understand your own genetic material, you will have to pay someone else for the right to do so, not because they own the technology to examine it, but because they own the DNA sequence itself.

Combine this trend with the increasingly draconian copyright lockdown and the alarming criminalization of fair use, and you can see there's an emergent trend in America towards granting corporate entities ownership and control over every bit of information that we use in society. Knowledge is becoming the closely-guarded and thinly-doled-out property of businesses, and they're increasingly building barriers to widespread and flexible use of information, in order to protect the profits for the CEO and shareholder of the moment. As that information ownership moves into our own bodies, the very genetic description of who each of us is as an individual, what are we becoming? How long until we are simply agents who own nothing of our own, renting, licensing, and subscribing our way through life, even through our own thoughts?

(Via BoingBoing.)

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