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The Beginning of Modern Biotech?

I’ve spent quite a bit of time the past couple of weeks exploring business patents. The original story I was doing the research for, alas, isn’t going to happen, but I sure did come across some interesting stuff serendipitously.

Example: U.S. Patent No. 4,259,444, the first patent on a living organism, a genetically engineered variation of the Pseudomonas bacterium designed primarily for the purpose of cleaning up oil spills. The U.S. PTO initially rejected the patent on the basis that living beings were not patentable, but after a major legal battle that went to the Supreme Court (Diamond v. Chakrabarty) — a casebook study for IP attorneys — the patent was granted in 1981. According to a spokesperson for the firm that argued the case for the applicant, Ananda Chakrabarty, an employee of General Electric at the time: “This patent opened the floodgates for protection of biotechnology-related inventions, which resulted in the issuance of thousands of patents, the formation of hundreds of new companies, and the development of bioengineered plants and food products.”

Whether, ultimately, this has been for the good of science, and humanity, is still very much a debatable matter.

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