My old mate Cameron has an interesting question.
Trev I would like to ask you about where you and/or ACT sits in the debate about patenting life forms.
Over the last few years there have been attempts by multinational corporations to try and secure patents on actual life forms (ie things made by Mother nature or hundreds of years of developing farming. For example the American chemical company WR Grace patented the Neem tree, which has been used by Indians for centuries for its medicinal properties.
Another company Ricetec patented Basmati Rice, which has been cultivated by people in South Asia for centuries. Thankfully both these idiotic patents have been overturned.
Should corporations be able to patent what they haven’t actually invented, Either processes that are natural or have been practiced by people for centuries?
At the moment it seems corporations, backed by WTO rules like TRIPS (Trade related international property rights) seem to be able to go around the world see a nice plant like the Neem tree and say “wow that’s a nice plant, I know we haven’t invented it but no one else has patented it so why don’t we?”
Is this right?
Thanks Cameron. I can’t speak for ACT on this one, only for myself.
The answer is no. Patenting is a way to establish property rights over something you have actually created. It must be new concept, technology or combination of ingredients.
Ethically speaking, you can no more patent a neem tree than you can patent a new species of moth you have discovered in the Southern Alps.
You didn’t create the tree, therefore you can’t patent it. Patents should be hard to get and extremely specific.
However there is another side to the coin. It isn’t just corporations who try this rubbish on.
I note that some indigenous tribes, including Maori are trying to establish property rights over their culture, traditional medicines, native plants etc. The recent case where some Maori, embarrassed a tobacco company into dropping its “Maori” brand of cigarettes in Israel is a case in point. Maori (or anyone else) have every right to object about the use of words they find offensive. However they should have absolutely no legal recourse, if the tobacco company should choose to ignore their concerns.
Culture is a collective thing. No-one has a right to claim property rights over the haka, the koru, waiata, Te Reo, or even the word Maori.
Likewise, the French should have claim on the word Champagne for example. Champagne is a generic term, applying to a certain style of wine originally made in the Champagne region. It should be no more “protectable” than “Danish” pastries, “Welsh” rarebit or “Belgian” biscuits.
The English have no exclusive rights over Morris Dancing, fish and chips, nursery rhymes, cockney rhyming slang etc.
Neither should Maori or other races attempt to “own” aspects of their culture, native plants or widely known “traditional’ remedies or recipes.
Patents should be a very specific and temporary protection for something new. If you don’t then use it, you should lose it.