defending the right to innovate
Science and IP
Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.
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One of the most promising areas for medical research are stem cells, and now that the Obama Administration has lifted many restrictions on their use, you would think this line of research would be booming. Not so according to Medindia which reports that there has been such a rush to patent in this area that research is in fact very difficult now.
I recently attended at the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Property and Freedom Society in Bodrum, Turkey (see my Bodrum Days and Nights: The Fifth Annual Meeting of the Property and Freedom Society: A Partial Report). I delivered a speech entitled "Ideas are Free: The Case Against Intellectual Property." The speech following mine was by one Terence Kealey, a biochemist at the University of Buckingham and author of Sex, Science and Profits and The Economic Laws of Scientific Research. Kealey is a fantastic speaker and his fascinating, riveting talk, "Science is a Private Good - Or: Why Government Science is Wasteful" (video; audio), perfectly complemented my anti-IP talk-in fact his book Sex, Science and Profits has a chapter calling for the abolition of patents. (The other PFS speeches (see the Program) are being uploaded and will be linked here.)
I don't mean the James Bond movie, or Ron Paul, Congress's "Dr. No." This wonderful, eye-opening piece by the heroic IP-abuse reporter Joe Mullin, The Fight of His Life (Mullin's blog, The Prior Art) highlights the appalling ordeal of Dr. Bob Shafer, a bioinformatics expert. Yet another case of patent law victimizing innovation and innocent people.
As such stories tend to be, this one is complicated, but it's crucially important, so bear with my attempt at a concise summary. Dr. Shaffer, an associate professor of medicine and pathology at Stanford University, established the HIV Drug Resistance Database (HIVdb) (wikipedia link) in 1998. As the article reports,
This is quite obviously a heroic, important, noble and benevolent effort. As the article notes, it's "a highly regarded free resource that he developed, Stanford hosts, and doctors and scientists around the world rely on."
However, in January 2007, ABL, a medical software company based in Luxembourg, claimed that the database infringed its patents. Read the article for more details, but in short: Stanford first moved to invalidate ABL's patents by filing a declaratory judgment suit in California in October 2007; but then later settled with ABL, where ABL agreed not to sue Stanford for patent infringement and Stanford agreed to put a prominent disclaimer on the HIVdb, informing those who used it that, depending on the nature of their work, they might need a patent license from ABL. However, Shafer wasn't required to sign the agreement with ABL and was not told him about the settlement's terms until after it was reached.
Shafer at first refused to post the notice, and bully for him. He was afraid it would lead doctors to think they owe money to ABL, "and that the database built mostly with taxpayer-funded National Institutes of Health grants is no longer free." Finally, under pressure, he did post a notice but he appended his own language arguing the patents are overbroad and invalid. See about halfway down on this page, where Dr. Shafer bravely challenges the validity of these patents. He also launched the site Harmful Patents, where he defiantly and courageously challenges the use of these patents to claim "a monopoly on the very concept of developing software to help physicians make treatment decisions"--absurdly, the patent gives ABL a monopoly on "the science of using computers to enhance medical treatment and decision making." As one of Shafer's colleagues notes, "If you read [ABL's patents] literally, anyone who is providing therapeutic options based on the sequence of a pathogen violates their patent, and that goes on in hundreds of contexts. It's truly a dangerous precedent."
Although ABL already settled with Stanford, its suit against Sahfer for breach of contract and defamation is ongoing. According to Mullin's report, Shafer has racked up more than $100,000 in legal bills and his career is in jeopardy, since he's fighting ABL and refused to cravenly give in, as his employer, Stanford University, arguably did.
I do not know if Shafer seeks or needs or welcomes help, or how it might be done. But I am all in favor of helping this man fight these people, and fight for the principle of "free access to published data" as "an intrinsic part of science and medicine." Good for Shafer, and for Mullin for bringing this to light.
Most Recent Comments
Questions and Challenges For Defenders of the Current Copyright Regime Subject Very controversial Gráfica em
at 01/30/2017 05:03 AM by fernando
The right to rub smooth using a hardened steel tool with ridges Finally got around to looking at the comments, sorry for delay... Replying to Stephan: I'm sorry
at 05/08/2015 08:35 AM by Dan Dobkin
Let's See: Pallas, Pan, Patents, Persephone, Perses, Poseidon, Prometheus... Seems like a kinda bizarre proposal to me. We just need to abolish the patent system, not replace
at 04/10/2015 10:44 AM by Stephan Kinsella
The right to rub smooth using a hardened steel tool with ridges I'm a bit confused by this--even if "hired to invent" went away, that would just change the default
at 04/10/2015 10:34 AM by Stephan Kinsella
Do we need a law? @ Alexander Baker: So basically, if I copy parts of 'Titus Andronicus' to a webpage without
at 01/08/2015 08:58 PM by Sheogorath
Do we need a law? The issue is whether the crime is punished not who punishes it. If somebody robs our house we do
at 11/17/2014 04:48 AM by David K. Levine
Do we need a law? 1. Plagiarism most certainly is illegal, it is called "copyright infringement". One very famous
at 10/29/2014 10:49 AM by Alexander Baker
Yet another proof of the inutility of copyright. The 9/11 Commission report cost $15,000,000 to produce, not counting the salaries of the authors.
at 09/20/2014 03:19 PM by Alexander Baker
WKRP In Cincinnati - Requiem For A Masterpiece P.S. The link to Amazon's WKRP product page:
at 06/28/2014 10:03 AM by Doris
WKRP In Cincinnati - Requiem For A Masterpiece Hopefully some very good news. Shout! Factory is releasing the entire series of WKRP in Cincinnati,
at 06/28/2014 10:00 AM by Doris
What's copywritable? Go fish in court. @ Anonymous: You misunderstood my intent. I was actually trying to point out a huge but basic
at 05/05/2014 01:03 PM by Sheogorath
Rights Violations Aren't the Only Bads I hear that nonsense from pro-IP people all the
at 04/07/2014 04:47 AM by Dan McCracken
Intellectual Property Fosters Corporate Concentration Yeah, I see the discouragement of working on a patented device all the time. Great examples
at 01/13/2014 06:13 AM by Anonymous
Music without copyright Hundreds of businessmen are looking for premium quality article distribution services that can be
at 11/28/2013 05:03 PM by Stephanie Smith
at 11/28/2013 09:23 AM by Anonymous
at 11/28/2013 09:22 AM by Anonymous
Patent Lawyers Who Don't Toe the Line Should Be Punished! Moreover "the single most destructive force to innovation is patents". We'd like to unite with you
at 11/24/2013 10:48 AM by SpaceCorp Technologies
at 11/20/2013 03:18 PM by Anonymous
Does the decline in total factor productivity explain the drop in innovation? So, if our patent system was "broken," TFP of durable goods should have dropped. Conversely, since
at 11/02/2013 08:09 PM by Anonymous
Does the decline in total factor productivity explain the drop in innovation? I wondered about TFP, because I had heard that TFP was increasing. Apparently, it depends on who
at 11/02/2013 08:08 PM by Anonymous