Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: That Buzzing Sound

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  • Mark Harris,

    Russ, I saw Farrar in that video. Therefore the whole thing is suspect.

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

  • ScottY,

    Bart is right. Government funding will always be limited, and the current public funding model puts a heavy emphasis on commercialisation. I don't see that changing ever.

    If we don't allow commercial entities to protect what they develop, or what they have paid others to develop, there won't be a lot of R&D other than a little bit of "public good" stuff which some organisations currently do.

    And nobody in the life sciences game is going to invest in a product if they can't stop someone else from pinching the idea. That's why we have patents. Making innovation available to everyone would mean not much innovation. If you asked a VC to invest in a biotech or life sciences company that had no patents for its products they would probably laugh at you.

    Now if your aim is to prevent all GE research, insisting it remain under Government control wouild certainly be a good step towards that.

    West • Since Feb 2009 • 794 posts Report Reply

  • Stewart,

    Speaking as a patent lawyer, ScottY?

    Joshing...

    Te Ika A Maui - Whakatane… • Since Oct 2008 • 577 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    Bart - I kind of draw the line at being able to copyright or patent a genome

    Paul - yeah it's a tough one. It gets at the heart of what patents are meant to do
    ... to allow publication of methods or discoveries so that others can build on them, while allowing the discoverer a period to profit...
    which often doesn't seem to be the way it works out.

    Well, my answer would be to point you to the Gower Report written for the UK treasury and published 2006.

    Recommendation 17

    Maintain policy of not extending patent rights beyond their present limits within the areas of software, business methods and genes.

    The whole 147 pages are not too bad a read if you are into that sort of thing.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Bulldozing homes over and building barriers. I thought they only did this in the middle east?

    *headdesk*

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Hubbard,

    Bart - "the farmer in question" - as in singular? You mean that nice Monsanto have prosecuted just one single farmer who was, like, cauught bang to rights? Kind of a different message on this site:

    http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/Monsantovsusfarmersreport.cfm

    And Monbiot makes a good case for applying greater skepticism towards the well-funded and sometimes insidious PR methods on behalf of the industry, as against the oft-clumsy messages of the rabid anti-GE brigade:
    http://www.organicconsumers.org/corn/monsantopr.cfm

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    If we don't allow commercial entities to protect what they develop, or what they have paid others to develop, there won't be a lot of R&D other than a little bit of "public good" stuff which some organisations currently do.

    Agreed -- and it's worth noting that our public research agencies already register new plant varieties developed through conventional breeding (or, as in the case of the Braeburn apple, served up as one of Mother Nature's glorious mutants).

    Where I draw the line is trying to register patents on plant varieties that are already widely used merely by virtue of having isolated and described their genomes.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Ward,

    Cycleway is turning into a series of Great Rides (puntastic title at least) for $500m. Sounds good actually (although tourism budget is staying static so they're taking that $500m from somewhere else)

    Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1727 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    Where I draw the line is trying to register patents on plant varieties that are already widely used merely by virtue of having isolated and described their genomes.

    Kind of like the biotech equivalent of the Sonny Bono Copywrong Extension Act (aka Mickey Mouse Protection Act).

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5445 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Audrey Young chimes in:

    Dear oh dear oh dear. Can things get any worse for National this week? There have been so many cock-ups it's hard to know where to start.

    It's as though the Government training manual only lasted to the end of April.

    Prime Minister John Key's announcement today that his Govt will spend $50 million over the next three years on the cycleway completely contradicts what Finance Minister Bill English said on national television on April 5.

    "We won't be spending $50 million on it this year or next year or the year after," English said at the time.

    Key said this morning: "It is my great pleasure to announce today that the Budget will allocate $50 million over three years for the New Zealand cycleway project...."

    Little wonder English resorted to humour yesterday when he said: "In the next few days, the Prime Minister will show exactly who is boss."

    She's right, but I find it interesting that Key has directly contradicted English (or vice versa) several times this year, and it's largely been let go by the gallery. I wonder if the vibe has changed.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Andrew if you fail to defend your patent protection against one farmer you may as well just give the seeds away. Some might argue that that's what should be done. But what you seem to be arguing is that farmers have some kind of right to simply use the GE crops that Monsanto developed for free. Again some might argue that is true. But Monsanto is within it's rights and it isn't unreasonable for them to use the law to defend those rights.

    This isn't Monsanto being big meanies. In fact particularly outside the US Monsanto have been pretty generous, especially to small holders.

    If you want to see the global results of the uptake of these crops on small farmers worldwide this report has some numbers

    As for Monsanto's insidious PR plot - rofl.

    As far as the science community is concerned Monsanto's failure to carry out even the most basic PR effort is one of the big reasons we see so much opposition to GE. Their initial PR efforts consisted of "piss off you ignorant shits, us businessmen know best".

    To describe that as an insidious PR plot?

    Yes there has been a huge effort on the part of the scientific community and the biotech industry (including Monsanto) to address issues raised and in general try and explain (without being condescending) why we believe the technology is both safe and beneficial.

    Some folks (myself included) have the feeling that some of those arguing against GE have their own agenda and are using PR just as vigorously (and more competently). For example the Organic Consumers Association site you linked might be interpreted as supporting the Organic farming industry, which is quite a big business.

    My time spent posting here about GE is my own and is taken from work I should be doing at the bench. But I'm doing it because there is a lot of misinformation still out there and I can pass on the stuff I know.

    It is not my intention to argue ideology with you. If you believe GE is somehow "wrong" that's fine by me. Where I will respond is if you state things that are not the whole story or just not correct. I don't expect to change your mind and wouldn't dream of imposing my ideology in that way.

    Oh and as for that piece of crap research that was published in Nature purporting to prove GE corn had introgressed into native maize... BULLSHIT. It was bullshit when it was published and it's bullshit now. The methological errors were in fact gaping holes in basic technique that undergrads spotted in the first reading of the paper. Nature F'd up, but it made a nice headline for them - good lord this is almost like mediawatch. When the scientific community screamed loud and hard that Nature had F'd up they had to remove the paper - that or give up pretending to be any kind of scientific journal. But the damage had been done because it allowed sites like the one you linked to pretend the paper was real and Monsanto had squashed it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard,

    Cycleway is turning into a series of Great Rides (puntastic title at least) for $500m.

    $500m or $50m?

    I wouldn't mind if it was being spent on actual commuter cycle lanes rather than recreational routes of dubious appeal. But then, creating safe cycle paths in dense urban areas (at least in Wellington, with narrow roads) requires not just money but either:

    a) demolishing properties, and that's highly undersirable (oh, except when there's a motorway involved), or

    b) taking lane space away from cars, and can you see that happening under Nact?

    Besides, only hippies and weirdos cycle to work, whereas Great Rides will be ridden by tourists, with their lovely overseas currency...

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1040 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Where I draw the line is trying to register patents on plant varieties that are already widely used merely by virtue of having isolated and described their genomes.

    No disagreement here either. Most scientists run for cover when the lawyers start talking because it makes our heads hurt.

    The problem has always been trying to adapt an old law (Patent Law) to a new world. It made sense that "discovering" a chemical should be patented. usually because it was associated with a (non-intuitive) isolation method.

    Legally it made sense to extend that to "discovering" the sequence of the genome of, say apples. But out in the real world away from the lawyers it just doesn't make sense.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    The other thing Key can console himself with is the fact that while this may be his worst week as PM so far, it is nowhere near as bad as in Britain where his friend Conservative leader David Cameron has had to put up revelations that his MPs have charged the taxpayer for the cost of chandeliers, swimming pool maintenance and cleaning the moat!

    Jesus, Audrey... and you were doing do well. Cameron actually had a pretty good week, all things considered, but don't let that get in the way.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Jesus, Audrey... and you were doing do well. Cameron actually had a pretty good week, all things considered, but don't let that get in the way.

    True. My impression is that Cameron fronted in a way that made Brown look leaden-footed.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Which makes what you want Rich, impossible.

    Many desirable things are impossible with our present government. That isn't to say they aren't desirable.

    Also, how do you commercialise a GM crop when a large chunk of our customers reject GM food?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    True. My impression is that Cameron fronted in a way that made Brown look leaden-footed.

    And I've got to say kudos to The Torygraph for publishing in the first place -- some of the stories are, shall we say, egregiously sexed up but fewer than you might think.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Ward,

    Sorry, too many zeroes in there. Yes, $50m

    Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1727 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Also, how do you commercialise a GM crop when a large chunk of our customers reject GM food?

    Although it's worth noting that they're probably wearing GM cotton.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Also, how do you commercialise a GM crop when a large chunk of our customers reject GM food?

    You develop GM crops and GM food that offers significant advantages to the consumer.

    At present most consumers don't notice the beneficial effects of GM crops. The benefits are either local, less use of harmful chemicals on the farm and around farming communities and more money to farmers. Or abstract, most consumers really don't think about topsoil when they buy food.

    But over the next 10 years you will see foods with altered nutritional content, anthocyanins, vitamins etc or reduced harmful compounds, reduced allergens or toxins. Foods that are higher quality at the supermarket because of improved shelf life or improved storage. And foods that are cheaper.

    All those will change some peoples minds. Especially when you remember the sky has not fallen because of GE corn or cotton or soybean or beet.

    Some people will still buy organic.

    Oh and expect to see a real change in EU policy as european companies start to want to market their own GE crops - that's a bit cynical.

    And if all that doesn't convince you then just consider the tiny wee market that is the USA.

    Although it's worth noting that they're probably wearing GM cotton.

    shhh they don't realise the keep NZ GE-free T-shirt is made using GE cotton

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    Well I have something like 20-odd patents with my name on them - they're mostly all shite, the product of employer's attempts to build a legal fortress against competitor's potential law suits - maybe 3 of them are things I'm actually proud of - genuinely unique ideas that I actually think ought to be patentable.

    That's one of the main problem with the current patent system - it's the death of a 1000 cuts - everywhere you turn someone's patented the bleeding obvious and you can spend all your time designing around them - the patent system is supposed to be there so that people are encouraged to disclose bright ideas so that others can build on them and create even better stuff - these days it's become something that's used to do almost exactly the opposite.

    Which gets us back to protecting new genetic entities - genetics is basically programming writ in DNA I think we run the same risk we do with programming of ending up with the death of a 1000 cuts - I think you should be able to patent applications, but not genomes, any more that you can patent a particular software program (just a use of one in a process).

    Equally copyright should apply to genomes - but at some minimal size - you can't copyright a single character, or even a word, equally I don't think you should be able to copyright a sinhle base pair, or for that matter anything shorter than some minimal length - lets say 100 base pairs just as a strawman. Unless the entire genome is de-novo you shouldn't be able to copyright the bits you didn't invent.

    Somehow we have to be able to protect stuff that shows up in nature through normal
    reproduction too - just because you created a new type of apple in the lab doesn't mean you should own the hybrids that show up in the wild, whether they contain your DNA that you let loose or DNA created by natural hybridisation - in essence you need genetic copy protection if you want to claim copyright and only the first ongoing copy is covered by law - so if you release a new breed of apple and it copies its DNA and releases it as pollen you're out of luck (remember new apple varieties are sold and reproduce by cloning, not using pollen).

    What I do think is dangerous is applying copyright to our genome - do you want some giant corporation telling you you can't breed (or even perform simple cellular replication) just because you've picked up some sequence in your DNA, even if you ate some GE corn and some of it hung around. I think we need to say that once you have any sequence in your particular genome you have a life time license to make as many copies of it as you like, including making more humans - who automatically get licenses at birth.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2623 posts Report Reply

  • Richard C,

    My time spent posting here about GE is my own and is taken from work I should be doing at the bench. But I'm doing it because there is a lot of misinformation still out there and I can pass on the stuff I know.

    Well, I've certainly appreciated it, Bart.

    It's opened my eyes to a contradiction in the party's apparent attitude to science which I really should have noticed earlier.

    And I say that as someone who voted for them in November (for the first time) and will likely vote for them again. If a little less willingly *feeble hint*...

    Waiheke Island • Since Oct 2007 • 27 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    That's one of the main problem with the current patent system - it's the death of a 1000 cuts

    I'll say. From an economic perspective it could be disastrous for NZ. I see the current status as something similar to trade tariffs. In order to participate in the "global knowledge economies" well will have to pay a tax on our activities to overseas economies, mainly the USA.

    This will *always* be a net loss to NZ, we simply cannot keep up or catch up, nor should we try to. Tariffs are usually frowned upon for good reasons, constructing new forms of them is sub-optimal.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    That's one of the main problem with the current patent system - it's the death of a 1000 cuts - everywhere you turn someone's patented the bleeding obvious and you can spend all your time designing around them

    My favourite is US patent 6,754,472, ‘Method and apparatus
    for transmitting power and data using the human body’. Held by Microsoft Corp.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    giovanni - I thought you were trying to wind me up, in light of this - http://nzoss.org.nz/news/2009/press-release-nzoss-stop-g2009

    But no, Google shows me it is true, how wonderful.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

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