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Under the Radar

chicago dyke's picture

I've got a lot to do today, forgive the grab bagging. Pensions: do you have one? I honestly can't tell if this bill is a good thing or not, but since Bush signed it, I'm inclined to think it will make things worse.

Four winged birds found on Noah's Ark, I mean in the paleobiological record. I really dig the pic. It's so clear why the fundies don't want kids to learn any science; the Bible is just dull and uninspiring by comparison.

Speaking of science, there's an important case coming up in the SCOTUS. The issue is worth a lengthy quote:

The Earth revolves around the Sun.
The speed of light is a constant.
Apples fall to earth because of gravity.
Elevated blood sugar is linked to diabetes.
Elevated uric acid is linked to gout.
Elevated homocysteine is linked to heart disease.
Elevated homocysteine is linked to B-12 deficiency, so doctors should test homocysteine levels to see whether the patient needs vitamins.

Actually, I can't make that last statement. A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent.

All this may sound absurd, but it is the heart of a case that will be argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. In 1986 researchers filed a patent application for a method of testing the levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, in the blood. They went one step further and asked for a patent on the basic biological relationship between homocysteine and vitamin deficiency. A patent was granted that covered both the test and the scientific fact. Eventually, a company called Metabolite took over the license for the patent. Although Metabolite does not have a monopoly on test methods-other companies make homocysteine tests, too-they assert licensing rights on the correlation of elevated homocysteine with vitamin deficiency. A company called LabCorp used a different test but published an article mentioning the patented fact. Metabolite sued on a number of grounds, and has won in court so far.

But what the Supreme Court will focus on is the nature of the claimed correlation. On the one hand, courts have repeatedly held that basic bodily processes and "products of nature" are not patentable. That's why no one owns gravity, or the speed of light. But at the same time, courts have granted so-called correlation patents for many years. Powerful forces are arrayed on both sides of the issue.

In addition, there is the rather bizarre question of whether simply thinking about a patented fact infringes the patent. The idea smacks of thought control, to say nothing of unenforceability. It seems like something out of a novel by Philip K. Dick-or Kafka. But it highlights the uncomfortable truth that the Patent Office and the courts have in recent decades ruled themselves into a corner from which they must somehow extricate themselves.

For example, the human genome exists in every one of us, and is therefore our shared heritage and an undoubted fact of nature. Nevertheless 20 percent of the genome is now privately owned. The gene for diabetes is owned, and its owner has something to say about any research you do, and what it will cost you. The entire genome of the hepatitis C virus is owned by a biotech company. Royalty costs now influence the direction of research in basic diseases, and often even the testing for diseases. Such barriers to medical testing and research are not in the public interest. Do you want to be told by your doctor, "Oh, nobody studies your disease any more because the owner of the gene/enzyme/correlation has made it too expensive to do research?"

Google can suck it, but I'm not sure what to make of this ruling. I don't read that much European news, but I sincerely hope they won't come after me if I post something from an EU publication.

I Am Your Neighbor. And no matter what your local theocrat has to say, I'm no threat to your marriage. It's a cool idea, and I hope it catches on.

Attaturk proves why a dollar spent on the mainstream media is a dollar you give to Karl. Fuck Newsweak.

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