I was recently invited to review a book entitled "Who Owns You? The Corporate Gold Rush to Patent Your Genes" for the Notre Dame Philosophical Review, an online publication. My review is available here.
Based on the title, I had some idea of where the book was going, but was frankly shocked by the gross misstatements of patent law, particularly with respect to so-called "gene patents." For example, at one point he states that one who has "successfully filed a patent over a non-engineered sheep gene [suddenly becomes] the owner of at least a part of every new and existing sheep in the world." Later he argues that gene patents "might be an affront to individual liberty and equality" because patent owners "have rights over parts of ourselves over which we as possessors of those parts have no particular rights." He goes on to conclude that "having babies would actually technically violate a patent if that baby carries a patented gene given it is the result of an unauthorized reproduction." He then asserts that "technically, each of us carrying a gene that has been patented runs the risk of making unauthorized reproductions simply by virtue of reproducing. When we passed that gene onto our progeny we have technically violated the patent."
All of these scenarios would indeed raise serious ethical concerns if they had any basis in reality, but in fact all are mere figments of the author's imagination resulting from his profound misunderstanding of patent law. I would guess that most readers of this blog recognize how badly this book mischaracterizes the nature of gene patents. Unfortunately, with celebrities like Michael Crichton making similar assertions, these alarmist and irrational fears surrounding gene patents have been adopted by some members of Congress, as exemplified by the bill introduced a couple years ago by Congressman Becerra to outlaw gene patents (H.R. 977, 110th Congress (2007)).
The author of the book, David Koepsell, has posted his response to my review, which questioned my motives based on my past employment in the biotechnology industry but failed to identify any substantive errors in my attempt to correct his misstatements of law.
The author's response to my book review seems to have generated more controversy than the review itself, as exemplified by this blog post by a law professor at the University Chicago.
The book was also panned by Patent Doc Kevin Noonan last June (I published my review prior to seeing Kevin's take on the book).