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Origin of bio patents

The patenting of the Neem tree is just one of the many instances where patents have been granted on life forms despite them not meeting the essential conditions of non-obviousness and novelty. The law of patents was extended to living organisms in the year 1980 with a US court ruling on microorganisms that “a live human-made microorganism is patentable matter”. Ever since, biotechnology firms have sprung up to make genetically engineered substances for a variety of uses. Ever since commercial considerations came to be uppermost in companies’ schema of things, there have been direct, indirect and downright devious means of cornering undeserved glory.

There has been a phenomenal number of patent applications for this kind of patent, each nearly always accompanied by not only questions regarding ethical and moral issues, but also doubts over the essential nature of such patent-grants. All IP protection activities related to agriculture, and living forms is fraught with these controversies. One of the biotechnological ‘intellectual property’ processes is that of cloning a particular organism. Here’s a possible scenario with respect to this ‘advancement’ that serves to illustrate two different but relevant issues – one of ownership and another of novelty (originality). These have been pointed out by India in the stand the country has taken vis-à-vis patents on life forms.

  • Suppose I was to be cloned, who owns my clone? The (clone) Maker or I? When I patent a gadget I own it, does that mean that I own a life if I were able to clone it? Can I not go a step further and start the barbaric practice of slavery all over again?
  • The idea of cloning is not new. Stories of a demon named ‘Blood Seed’ are well known in ageless Indian mythology. Positive elements fighting the demon had to ensure that no drop of its blood fell to the ground; each drop could give rise to thousands of the demon’s clones.