On Friday, the EPO (European Patent Office) upheld an earlier decision rejecting a patent application from the University of Wisconsin-Madison' Alumni Research Foundation in the US. The patent was for stem cell technology, and it was rejected because the process disclosed in the patent apparently required the use or destruction of human embryos.
I was curious about this because, so far as I know, there are no grounds in US law for rejecting patents on ethical or moral bases. Certainly US defense contractors get patents on all kinds of horrific killing technologies and I believe there was at least one patent on the electric chair.
Unfortunately, the US media are not terribly informative on the background for this latest patent rejection. According to Kevin Grogan's story in PharmaTimes
the EPO already has a ban in place on the patenting of inventions “whose commercial exploitation would be contrary to public order or morality”, and specifically prohibits patents on uses of human embryos “for industrial or commercial purposes”.
Grogan also quotes David Earp, the chief counsel for Geron, a US-based pharma research firm,
as claiming that the current decision is more narrowly drawn than the quote above would suggest, and expressing confidence that Geron's other human embryonic stem cell work can be protected in Europe.
November 25, 2008
In this blog I spend most of my time on the production side of the issues - talking about business models, distribution, artist compensation, and so on. Once in a while it's important to remember that there are also complimentary rights - your right to own materials produced by creators, for private viewing. Making or buying legal copies of creative works is an essential part of the process - all the author rights in the world don't mean jack if nobody can buy what's created. Sometimes we need to remember those rights because they get attacked.
On Monday of this week Neil Gaiman blogged about a particular incident - a case being defended by CBLDF, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
In this case a person, Christopher Handley, is being prosecuted for possession of manga (comics) that are asserted to be obscene. Handley is facing up to 20 years for possession of material that is... um, let's be honest here, it's pretty much exactly like stuff you'd find on my shelves. I don't collect manga, per se, but I do collect Gaiman's works and some of Alan Moore's more disturbing output.
The problem seems to center around images that appear to be young children. It's pretty hard to determine the age of a character in a fiction, unless the author explicitly states it. So the prosecution is based purely on the appearance of an image. Subjective judgement, anyone?
As the parent of two young children, I'm a bit sensitive to the actual use of real children in visually explicit material. I don't think children can consent in any meaningful way, and I don't think they understand the adult implications of explicit or sexual acts. Real people - children and adults - need protection against unscrupulous content producers of any sort who would take advantage of or coerce them.
But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about made-up images of purely fictional people. I think it's important to defend the right to own, and the right to view, legally obtained copies of material against overreaching laws.
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November 24, 2008
Almost a year ago, Eric Bangeman wrote a piece on ars pointing out that the Cartel has somehow managed to avoid noticing that students at Harvard share music files, too. Despite its widespread and very public campaign of suing its under-25 customer demographic, the RIAA seemed unwilling - some would say scared - to take on Harvard. Bangeman, along with others, noted that the Cartel's attack dogs seemed to be taking on easy targets.
Bloggers attributed this 'oversight' on the RIAA's part to the presence at Harvard of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, an organization noted for its outspoken opposition to the Cartel's jihad1. Harvard also hosts a world-class law school, whose students have taken on a number of high profile causes on a pro bono basis over the decades. If your strategy is to deploy enough high-paid legal muscle that your opponents are intimidated into instant surrender then it makes sense to avoid a place with resources like these.
Scroll forward a year and the RIAA has yet to bring a case against any of Harvard's file-sharing students. And it appears that law professor Charles Nesson both got tired of waiting and found a case he could support. The fleet, as they say, has sailed.
RIAA v. Joel Tenenbaum may become the Cartel's English Channel. As you'd expect, Nesson isn't just trying to defend one student. He's attacking the foundations of the RIAA's entire campaign, as well as the constitutionality of the laws on which it is based. He's filed counterclaims, and is seeking to have the RIAA itself named as a defendant.
Techdirt's write-up on this is dripping with delicious anticipation.Mike Masnick notes that Nesson has a lot of caselaw and is using the RIAA's own words against them. But we're still at the very earliest stages yet. My guess is that the RIAA will drop its case against Tenenbaum and attempt to get the countersuit mooted rather than try to defend on the merits.
1Full disclosure: Corante, the organization that hosts this blog and many others, has had close professional relations with the Berkman Center for many years. I have no personal affiliation with Berkman, nor is there any influence from that organization on this blog.
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