Dec 10 2013

Do Seed Companies Restrict Research?

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31 Responses to “Do Seed Companies Restrict Research?”

  1. jepleron 10 Dec 2013 at 9:00 am

    You state that “[t]he three companies, Monsanto, Pioneer, and Syngenta claimed they supported independent research but also need to protect their patent rights (by restricting research that would make it easier to reverse-engineer their invention)”. As far as I can see, the parenthetical is your own inference and not a paraphrase of the NYT story. Briefly and uncarefully stated, the purpose of a patent is to ensure full disclosure of inventions so that after the exclusivity term the invention is available for public use. Unless you’re trying to imply that the companies are abusing patent law by trying to use it to protect trade secrets, you may want to modify or reword this remark.

    Unrelatedly, early in the post you refer to “GMIO”. Was this simply a typo for “GMO”?

  2. Steven Novellaon 10 Dec 2013 at 10:14 am

    jepler – the parenthetical is my summary of their stated purpose. It may have been from one of the other articles I linked to rather than the NYT article – but they definitely cite their concern over preventing research from leading to reverse-engineering their seeds.

    I don’t see how this adds up to an abuse of patent law. The patents also provide them with their period of exclusivity, and if this exclusivity is violated because someone reverse engineers their seeds, does this not violate their patent rights?

    I don’t see the typo. Perhaps my editor got to it already.

  3. ccbowerson 10 Dec 2013 at 10:29 am

    “Yet we have a universal human desire for simplicity and the sense of control, so we often reduce the horrific complexity of the world to white hats and black hats.
    This tendency makes my job difficult…”

    Not only is ‘your job’ more difficult because of the caricature nature of the information about controversial topics on the intertubes, but it is also much harder to communicate about complex topics because audiences are already more polarized partially because of the polarization of the content.

    I find the individual variations in the need for certainty a facinating topic. Combine a strong black-and-white thinker with an adherence to a ideology and you have one impossible conversation. On the other hand, if you have a black-and-white thinker that values intellectual honesty, you can have a conversation that progresses, at least for that moment. Often this person will revert to their previous opinion, however.

    On the other end of the spectrum, you have fluffy thinkers who do not want to be constrained by reality, and want to call black and white items purple and green. For controversial topics, too few are in the middle – those who want some closure on ideas that have sufficient evidence (though not permanent closure – still open to revision with new evidence), but they also recognize that uncertainty is not only OK, but the perferred state in many situations.

  4. BBBlueon 10 Dec 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Those in the seed business have always jealously guarded the fruits (and vegetables, and grains, and fibers…) of their labors. GE has added a new twist, but the principles are the same: “I’ve got a patented variety that cost me a lot to develop so I don’t intend to let it escape my control.” Releasing material for research is one of the ways in which control of new varieties slip from the grasp of patent holders. It is not right, and it is not legal, but it has happened regardless of good intentions, and it is a lot less expensive to keep the genie in the bottle than to try and put it back in. There is no evil intent, it’s just business.

    Commercial interests in agricultural regions, including farmers, have a history of working closely with academic institutions that value applied agricultural research. There is a lot of trust involved in those relationships, and researchers as well as purveyors of seed and plants do not last if they violate that trust. As one who has made a career in agriculture, I can understand why some see evil intent where there is none, but I often find those opinions to be founded on ideology, not science.

  5. ccbowerson 10 Dec 2013 at 10:04 pm

    “It is not right, and it is not legal, but it has happened regardless of good intentions, and it is a lot less expensive to keep the genie in the bottle than to try and put it back in. There is no evil intent, it’s just business.”

    Can you unpack the “It” in that first sentence? I am not sure specifically what you are referring to, and I am curious. Also, “it’s just business” is an empty phrase that can be used to rationalize a lot of unethical behavior, and those behaviors we tolerate (i.e make legal or don’t enforce) will continue. I agree that it’s not about evil versus not evil, and I never understood those who want to view things along those lines. That doesn’t, however, let commercial interests off the hook with saying ‘it’s just business’ when they do unethical or illegal things. Perhaps I’m misreading between your lines

  6. Cody Mentingon 11 Dec 2013 at 12:52 am

    Nice write up, Steve. I have been enjoying Nathaniel Johnson’s series on GE at Grist for a while. Also, Greg Dolin had some interesting points about IP in a recent debate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlMSkDyQTxo&t=46m46s

  7. BBBlueon 11 Dec 2013 at 2:47 am

    “It” = Stealing patented plant material or plant material that may be patented in the future.

    “It’s just business” = Jealously guarding one’s intellectual property from thieves.

    New varieties undergo many years of field trials before release and they can be attractive, vulnerable targets during that time. For instance, I am familiar with a case where patented plant material got out of the country and the patent owner’s rep spent several years traveling the world tracking down farmers who were growing it. Working through international law, the company was able to collect some licensing fees, but only after great cost, and it has taken them many years to realize a return on those efforts. I am sure GE technology would add another layer or two of complexity to such a situation.

    Based on my familiarity with the development and patenting of plants using traditional breeding methods, and understanding what’s at stake, the original restrictions don’t seem all that unusual to me, or at least, they seem reasonable from a business perspective. Subsequent accommodations indicate these companies are making a sincere effort to resolve issues and cooperate in research once they can be confident their intellectual property will be protected.

    All that is secondary to the point that those who purposely ignore information that weakens their argument and attribute ill intent without evidence expose themselves as idealogues. And for those who may simply not know the latest information before publishing an opinion, they may not be idealogues, they may just be lazy.

  8. sonicon 11 Dec 2013 at 1:56 pm

    It isn’t surprising the companies place restrictions on the researchers using the patented materials- they have to protect the intellectual property.
    Many companies have trade secrets and other secrets– some of these might involve scientific secrets.
    Unlike academia where full disclosure is more or less expected, one must expect a company to maintain certain secrets.

    The point being that corporations have to keep certain secrets and this can be opposed to what many think of as best scientific practice.
    That doesn’t make the companies wrong or evil, it is just how it is.

    Of course some ideologues will find the companies evil for any interference.

  9. LibertyFreedomPatrioton 11 Dec 2013 at 4:42 pm

    After 4+ years of listening to the “Skeptic’s Guide,” I unsubscribed a few months ago due to Steve’s ringing endorsement of Monsanto on multiple occasions. I wasn’t personally offended, of course, just disappointed that once again, a skeptic’s libertarian ideology blinded them to objective analysis (cf Shermer, Dunning, Penn Jillette, etc). I have better things to do with my time than listen to yet more BS like that.

    Now, you’re at it again. If your mind isn’t already closed about this, Steve, I suggest you start by reading this:

    http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/MonsantoProfileEU.pdf

    Yes, it’s by an advocacy group, but the facts are verifiable.

    In my opinion, Monsanto is a public health menace. If they didn’t have such a corrupting influence on Congress, they would have been regulated out of existence long ago.

    I agree with you on 90% of issues, Steve, but with Monsanto (and to a lesser extent, GMOs in general), you’re way out of your league. What’s next, a stirring defense of Haliburton? A paean to the wonders of ExxonMobil?

  10. ccbowerson 11 Dec 2013 at 6:19 pm

    LFP-
    I have yet to hear Steve ‘endorse’ Monsanto, so perhaps you get SGUs that I don’t get. I have heard and read him break-down certain claims from advocates regarding Monsanto, and he found them to be lacking. Also, I have been following Steve and the SGU for years, and the libertarian label does not fit. Re: Shermer and Penn Jillette, you will get no argument from me. I also find their perspectives detrimentally skewed by libertarian biases, to the point of motivated reasoning.

    So you unsubscribed from the SGU, because you disagree with 10% of what Steve says? …and that 10% is GMOs and Monsanto? Then out of nowhere you mention two other unrelated large corporations. Who is the one who is ideologically motivated, again?

  11. Mlemaon 12 Dec 2013 at 5:29 am

    “…At one time, seed companies were just large-scale farmers who grew various strains for next year’s crop. Most of the innovative hybrids and cross-breeding were done the old-fashioned way, at public universities, and the results were shared publicly.

    “It was done in a completely open-sourced way,” says Benbrook. “Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture exchanged all sorts of seeds with other scientists and researchers all over the world. This free trade and exchange of plant genetic resources was the foundation of progress in plant breeding. And in less than a decade, it was over.”

    The first crack appeared in 1970, when Congress empowered the USDA to grant exclusive marketing rights to novel strains, with two exceptions: Farmers could replant the seeds if they chose, and patented varieties had to be provided to researchers.

    But that wasn’t enough. Corporations wanted more control, and they got it with a dramatic, landmark Supreme Court decision in 1980, which allowed the patenting of living organisms. The decision was intended to increase research and innovation. But it had the opposite effect, encouraging market concentration.

    Monsanto would soon go on its buying spree, gobbling up every rival seed company in sight. It patented the best seeds for genetic engineering, leaving only the inferior for sale as conventional, non-GM brands. ”
    http://www.citypages.com/2013-07-24/restaurants/the-monsanto-menace-takes-over/full/

    Also:
    The UK government is serving as prosecutor for Monsanto against European civil society groups.
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/uk-government-set-to-support-monsanto-in-eu-court/5359171

    It’s this sort of thing that causes people to hate Monsanto, regardless of their feelings about transgenics.
    If you’re a farmer in the US, it’s really hard to get away from industrial agriculture – and that’s what Monsanto has capitalized on. Beyond that, they’ve strong armed their way into other countries. Their experience with PCB litigation showed them that a strong legal team can earn and save them as much money as their inventions.

  12. Mlemaon 12 Dec 2013 at 5:32 am

    Monsanto won 1 billion $ against Dupont for patent infringement.
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-08-01/monsanto-awarded-1-billion-against-dupont-by-jury.html

    But, the farmers love them, right?
    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-september-12-2013/monsanto—seed-patent-laws

    :)

  13. BBBlueon 12 Dec 2013 at 1:29 pm

    “…At one time, seed companies were just large-scale farmers who grew various strains for next year’s crop. Most of the innovative hybrids and cross-breeding were done the old-fashioned way, at public universities, and the results were shared publicly.”

    Intense, private commercialization of plant breeding dates back at least to the 1630′s with the boom and bust of the tulip business in Holland. In this country, the origin of plant patents can be traced back to a time when Luther Burbank was doing plant breeding and mass selections in the early 1900′s in California at about the same time public institutions got into the act there. Private enterprise has always been a strong player in the development of new varieties and what constitutes “Most of the innovative hybrids” in the statement above depends on the category because that is not the case for all breeding programs.

    Most farmers are practical people; why spend their own money when the USDA is willing to use public funds for certain plant breeding programs, especially when startup costs and profit potential are a significant obstacle? Also, staples like wheat, corn, soybeans, for example, are considered to be of strategic importance, and a case has been made that the use of public funds to improve those crops is justified for that reason, although some would say the concept has been taken too far.

    With the advent of reliable refrigerated transport, high-value specialty crops were no longer limited to backyard or local production, they became big business, and the profit potential for developing new fruit and vegetable varieties increased and that fueled many private breeding programs. Times change, technology changes, business models change, private and public enterprises change with them. What one person sees as a “crack” in the system, another person may see as an appropriate response to change.

    In some cases, public breeding programs have served agriculture well and in other cases, they have not. In those cases where they have not, private enterprise has filled the gaps, if not taken the technology to a higher level. There have been traditions in certain sectors, but there has never been any obligation on the part of private plant breeders to operate in a “completely open-sourced way”. In fact, some publicly funded programs are now operating as something akin to a private business in restricting access to plant material and charging licensing fees or royalties.

    Reading between the lines in some of the comments, it appears that criticism of Mr. Novella’s observations has more to do with a corporations-are-bad, anti-capitalist political bent than an understanding of the facts.

  14. ConspicuousCarlon 12 Dec 2013 at 2:13 pm

    LibertyFreedomPatrioton 11 Dec 2013 at 4:42 pm
    Steve’s ringing endorsement of Monsanto on multiple occasions. I wasn’t personally offended, of course, just disappointed that once again, a skeptic’s libertarian ideology blinded them to objective analysis

    Steve Novella’s “libertarian ideology”? That’s news to me.

  15. ConspicuousCarlon 12 Dec 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Mlemaon 12 Dec 2013 at 5:29 am
    http://www.citypages.com/2013-07-24/restaurants/the-monsanto-menace-takes-over/full/

    If there are real problems, that article is loaded with a lot of the BS distractions on which the cranks usually waste their efforts. When such a POS uses words like “frankencrops” and “monsanto protection act”, only an idiot would take it seriously on un-sourced assertions about other issues.

  16. Mlemaon 12 Dec 2013 at 4:53 pm

    # ConspicuousCarlon 12 Dec 2013 at 2:31 pm

    I linked to the article because it was the source of the quote. I don’t necessarily support what the rest of the article is saying. We have to try to limit the discussion a little because it is the size of the economy, global governments, evolution, etc etc etc

    BBBlue – interesting.
    I think the transformation from public to private monies (and public monies controlled by private factors) also has to do with the shift in political power over the last 40 years – not from one party to the other, but from one class to another. This has effected public education as well. Private industry doesn’t necessarily change to fill a gap, but forms a gap to fill.

  17. SimonWon 12 Dec 2013 at 7:40 pm

    BBBlue, isn’t the point of the patent bargain, that we give them a period of exclusivity in exchange for knowing what would otherwise be trade secrets, allowing others to carry on researching but ploughing some of the profit from future research back to the patent holder.

    If they don’t like the patent bargain, I for one would only be too happy to consider removing patents from our legislation entirely.

    Seems they want their cake, and to eat it to.

    A patent isn’t a natural right, we are apes we ape, plants reproduce, the patent is granted by the government, on behalf of the people, for this precise purpose.

  18. ConspicuousCarlon 12 Dec 2013 at 10:57 pm

    Patents aren’t just for things which would otherwise be secrets. Not sure how you got that idea.

  19. BBBlueon 12 Dec 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Hi SimonW,

    My ideas are my ideas, I am under no obligation to share them with you or anyone else. The purpose of patents is to encourage people to do R&D and share their innovations. Implicit in that is the proposition that when innovations are introduced to the public domain, a common good is served. At its core, patent law is a means to harness self-interest for a larger purpose.

    That’s the bargain. Trade secrets are a different matter. They are secrets. One may patent a product and expose that product to the public, but that doesn’t mean that one must also expose the process that made it. For instance, Apple has many patents on the iPhone, but there are many secrets associated with the manufacturing process they are not about to reveal.

  20. ccbowerson 13 Dec 2013 at 10:22 am

    “The purpose of patents is to encourage people to do R&D and share their innovations. Implicit in that is the proposition that when innovations are introduced to the public domain, a common good is served.”

    I largely agree- except that if you live in the US, the common good aspect is more explicit than implicit. The purpose is actually written into the Constitution:

    “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”

    That is the constitutional basis for having copyright and patent laws at all, so speculation as to the broad purpose of these laws is unnecessary as they are clearly written.

  21. Steven Novellaon 13 Dec 2013 at 10:56 am

    cc – while that is a good point, you cannot just rely on what is written in the Constitution. You have to also include all of the intervening legal precedent. How has that been interpreted by the Supreme Court?

  22. ccbowerson 13 Dec 2013 at 12:02 pm

    “cc – while that is a good point, you cannot just rely on what is written in the Constitution. You have to also include all of the intervening legal precedent. How has that been interpreted by the Supreme Court?”

    Of course I agree in general, but within the context of the broad purpose, what is explicitly written is pretty clear.

    There are of course many other ins-and-outs of patent and copyright law. Even with the quote above, the terms of “science” and “arts” have been interpreted pretty broadly, and in the language of the day were not the narrow definitions that some may think about when using these terms in modern common language.

  23. BBBlueon 13 Dec 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Mr. Novella is spot-on; there is the Constitution, then there are laws and regulations, and finally, there are refinements as laws and regulations are challenged and precedents established. However, while we can all agree a public good is served by promoting the progress of science and the useful arts, I don’t agree the language cited is explicit in that regard.

    As to my previous comments about this technology being an attractive target for thieves, here is some recent news:

    “Chinese scientist accused of trying to steal seed samples from a company’s research facility in Kansas.”

    “The federal complaint says Yan worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a rice geneticist at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Arkansas.”

    http://m.startribune.com/?id=235758351

  24. ccbowerson 13 Dec 2013 at 10:27 pm

    BBBlue-

    The purpose of mentioning constitution quote is to point out where the power of congress to create patent and copyright laws come from. It is one of the powers of congress enumerated in the constitution, and it provides the basis and justification for all of the federal patent and copyright laws.

    Of course there are many many details within the laws, regulations, policies, and procedures, and subsequent legal interpretations, but I found it interesting that the consitution provided an explicit rationale for that particular power. It is surpisingly uncommon for rationales/intent to be explicit in the constitution, which makes constitutional law interesting to me, and IMO also prone to judicial ideological biases.

    As an aside, for those interested in constitutional law: the Federalist Society has a podcast “Scotuscast,” in which every supreme court case is covered by expert legal scholars, including brief overviews, post argument podcasts and post decision podcasts.

  25. sonicon 15 Dec 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Dr. N.-
    Allow me an attempt to be of some help.
    I have been thinking about this and I’m thinking my sloppiness/ laziness in linking to the NY Times article might be a blessing in disguise- it has illuminated a situation- I believe better understanding is possible.

    I would agree to these things—
    It is extremely unlikely the seed companies would enter into agreements like this if they were knowingly hiding something about the seeds being toxic or some such thing.
    The situation is better for some researchers now than it was before.
    I’m not sure the companies can or should do more than they have about this.

    But those statements have little to do with why I linked to the Times article– allow me to explain–

    The companies that own the patents have a great deal of power regarding what gets researched and who does the researching when it comes to the patented materials. It is different trying to research a GMO then it would be trying to research a radish seed found in the wild, for example. This is true of many patented materials, not just GMO’s.

    The link I supplied to the NY Times article is an anecdote about a seed company using part of the power they wield in this area.

    Now it turns out at least one of the people (Shields) from the anecdote in the Times has been allowed to do his research- or as he put it-
    “If you are at a major agricultural school that’s negotiated an agreement with the companies, it’s working fine,” about the new arrangement.

    What this tells me is that if one has a team of lawyers and is backed by a large institution, one might be able to negotiate a limited use research agreement so that he can research areas that the seed company agrees to allow.
    To draw a comparison: One needs no lawyers or any institutional backing and no approval from any company to do research into any aspect of the wild radish seed I alluded to above.

    This is a demonstration of the power they have. This power has not been reduced in any meaningful way. (I’m not advocating that it should be reduced– I’m acknowledging that it exists). In fact, the extent of the power has been institutionalized– you must get their approval to do any research– even if you are a publicly owned, publicly funded institution– you must get an approval from them to do any research whatsoever- because they can definitely tell you what you can not study. And this message has been made clear to all the institutions in the country and I’m sure the independent researchers got the message as well.
    If you want to do research on these things, you must get their approval– apparently there was some question about that before- it is clear now.

    From a business standpoint these contracts have advantages– the companies get students using public money to do research and they can use the schools to train their future employees– they don’t give up any rights or secrets– this is a business decision, not a science decision. I’m sure a corporation and an university can work out any number of mutually beneficial relationships.

    So you see a situation being handled (and I see that too), but from my perspective that’s the anecdote– the message is about how much power they wield. I agree they have been reasonably benevolent to this point– I’m not making any accusations of wrong doing. I’m noting a level of control over the research done in this area– which is the actual point of the Times article and is now backed further by the fact a university would need these types of agreements that include what must not be studied.

    Oh- there it is, you are seeing the agreements as rebuttal to the Times article– I’m seeing another anecdote about the power over the research the companies wield.

    Am I being overly bias in my thinking?

  26. BBBlueon 15 Dec 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Cc bowers,

    Thanks for the Scotuscast reference.

    For those who argue that it’s the federal government’s role to create or interpret patent law in a way that serves the public good

  27. BBBlueon 15 Dec 2013 at 1:08 pm

    …knew that one day I would hit the “Publish” button prematurely.

    For those who argue that it’s the federal government’s role to create or interpret patent law in a way that serves a public good, that constitutional reference is instructive. The explicit purpose of patent law is to promote progress in science and useful arts by constructing a system that allows innovators to profit from their ideas. The constitutional foundation for patent law is not explicitly to serve a public law.

    The distinction is important when it comes to courts resolving challenges to patent law; the public good is subordinate to the interests of the patent holder. That is not to say that patents laws which are detrimental to public interests should be allowed to stand, just that the interests of the patent holder should be considered first.

  28. Steven Novellaon 15 Dec 2013 at 1:32 pm

    sonic – from what you wrote, I don’t see where we disagree. I was not proposing a “rebuttal” to the NYT article, just an update.

    I agree that the companies, because of their patents, hold a lot of power over research.
    That they have acted to allow independent research while protecting their patents, in a reasonable way.
    And that further – we should explore regulations that ensure, across the board, critical independent research can be done and is not overly controlled by those with a vested interest.

    I don’t think the current situation is perfect, but it is better than what the scientists complained about in 2009, by their own admission.

    I do think that in political controversial areas we need to push for greater transparency and independence. For example – the CDC likes to play things close to the vest with vaccines, but the controversies over vaccines require more transparency.

    It’s all about tweaking the balance of the various concerns and principles. Most people agree on what we want as an end result, just not on how to get there.

  29. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Dec 2013 at 10:22 pm

    It’s good to have meaningful conversations regarding patents and patent law. Unfortunately, in the current environment it’s difficult to have one in regards to GE biotech. Furthermore, it’s irrational to put regulations and transparency on one form of seed development without putting it on all forms. Laws and regulations should be able to protect those who spend time and resources developing a product, while at the same time protect the public, or better yet, promote public good.

    Also, what are the alternatives to patents? While there may be positive aspects to alternatives, there will always be negatives, as well. Currently, seed development is also done at public institutions as well as research on what is currently available on the private market, which is important that we have the independent research that can aid in our assessment of marketed products. If there were actual issues raised by independent research, there would then be cause for greater concern about what is privately marketed.

    Much of the criticisms of patents have come to light in recent years as a result of protests against GMOs and Monsanto (and GE biotech in general), which, again, is irrational and for the most part unfounded. There simply is no data to support the fears and outright hysteria over them. My guess is that if GMOs weren’t around, there wouldn’t be so much discussion about patents.

    Legal and regulatory decisions should not be guided so much by popular demand or personal objection, but by actual data that maximizes the protection of rights of all parties involved. However, I also believe that criticisms aren’t as widespread as may be perceived, as seen by the recent downvote of Washington’s I522 labeling bill.

  30. jreon 23 Dec 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Coming a little late, I realize, but I am not sure this got resolved:

    I don’t see how this adds up to an abuse of patent law. The patents also provide them with their period of exclusivity, and if this exclusivity is violated because someone reverse engineers their seeds, does this not violate their patent rights?

    In my view, the good Dr. N. is missing the essential distinction between trade secrets and patents. In order for society to reap the benefit of disclosure in return for a patent’s grant of exclusivity, it is necessary that a patent reveal all that is necessary for one skilled in the art to practice the patent. While it is certainly true that a smart inventor will not reveal in the teaching everything he knows, and a good patent attorney will not go farther than the examiner requires, if anything fundamental is deliberately left out, then patent law is violated.

    If researchers, by sequencing the DNA of seeds, were to discover by “reverse engineering” anything required to be disclosed in a patent, they still could not use that information without infringing the patent as long as it was in force — making the restriction unnecessary.

    Trade secrets are different. Individuals and companies are under no obligation to reveal the workings of anything they have not patented, and they often impose strict contractual limits, such as non-disclosure agreements, on customers and research partners.

    I suspect the research restrictions under discussion were crafted as protection of trade secrets, to provide a litigation path using breach of contract. Patent infringement is an entirely different path, and it is quite common to see companies use a double-barrelled approach, patenting some elements and reserving others as trade secrets and protecting them by contract.

    Just my thoughts.

  31. Kpaxon 09 Feb 2014 at 4:40 pm

    research:


    Can Patents Prohibit Research? On the Social Epistemology of Patentingand Licensing in Science
    Justin B. BiddlePhilosophy ProgramSchool of Public PolicyGeorgia Institute of TechnologyEmail:

    Abstract.
    This paper examines one important aspect of the current organization of scientific and technological research – namely, the system of patenting and licensingand its role in structuring the production and dissemination of knowledge. The primary justification of patenting in science and technology is consequentialist in nature. On thisaccount, patenting incentivizes research and thereby promotes the development of scientific and technological knowledge, which in turn facilitates social progress. Somehave disputed this argument, on the grounds that patenting actually inhibits thedevelopment of knowledge. In this paper, I make a stronger argument; in some areas of research in the US – in particular, research on GM seeds – patents and patent licensescan be, and are in fact being, used to prohibit some research. I discuss three potentialsolutions to this problem: voluntary agreements, eliminating patents, and a researchexemption. I argue against eliminating patents, and I show that while voluntaryagreements and a research exemption could be helpful, they do not sufficiently addressthe problems of access that are discussed here. More extensive changes in theorganization of research are necessary. In addition to developing an argument aboutpatenting and licensing, this paper illustrates a promising approach to socialepistemology.

    Keywords
    Social epistemologyScience and valuesPatenting and licensingIntellectual property rights in scienceGenetically modified (GM) seedsCommercialization of science

    http://www.academia.edu/4274086/Can_Patents_Prohibit_Research_On_the_Social_Epistemology_of_Patenting_and_Licensing_in_Science

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