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This is the case relating to that farmer who claims that Monsanto seeds were 'blown' over to his farm. The decision on this case has recently just been given.

A short excerpt from the news article:

The Supreme Court of Canada made biotechnology history Friday with a 5-4 ruling that a Saskatchewan farmer violated a patent Monsanto Canada Inc. held on genes of genetically engineered canola seeds.

Here is how I see the situation.

Whether or not the seeds were blown over or not has become the minor point of this interesting story. The much wider issue and question is what is your opinion on the patenting of life forms. There are three categories that are often used and they are:
1) Plants and seeds
2) Lower life forms
3) Higher life forms
There is debate and criticism that the distinction between lower and higher life form is arbitrary and is not reflected in the law. Higher life forms obviously includes humans but according to previous decisions it also includes life forms such as a mouse. (Harvard Mouse decision: Basically Harvard created mice that are susceptible to cancer thus helping cancer research and they patent it)

A) Unethical to patent genetically modified life forms
This is often directed against the fear that if you start allowing patent of higher life forms then it is a slippery slope and that humans could soon be patented. Although often couched in terms that suggests that it is more of a religious objection, rephrasing the argument in terms of it being unethical and repugnant for any human to claim ownership over another (slavery) makes this argument more acceptable.

Of course the reply to such concerns is that one is not claiming ownership of humans, nor even ownership of the entire set of genes for the seeds or the mouse. Rather one is claiming only the genetically modified portion of the life form. You can still happily breed normal mice or reuse normal seeds, just that you cannot do it with that modified seed.

B) Common heritage of mankind
There is an argument that such invention should serve the common good of mankind rather than be treated as a commercial property. It should be noted that this is distinct from the issue of research companies going into let us say the Amazon, India, Madagasca, etc and taking traditional medicine or taking plants then purifying the chemicals and patenting it for treatment. Let us focus our discussion on the companies modifying the genes themselves.

One problem with such a common heritage solution is that without the patent and monopoly profits, company would not be willing to spend millions to create the modified genes and products in the first place. Thus the 'heritage' of mankind would be significantly less. Furthermore, patents only last for 20 years and if one agrees that the creation of these products is good, then is not a 20 year monopoly trade-off a good deal?

C) Hollywood: Genes and Mutants
As with every invention there are will be people fearing that it will lead to the end of the world. Concerns such as cross contamination are often raised.

Regulation and grant of patent are different matters. For example, if let us say you invented a weapon, the mere fact that you can patent it does not mean that you can use it. If one is really concern about the safety issue, then perhaps one should focus on regulation rather than on deciding against the grant of a patent.

I find this to be a fascinating topic and would like to hear your views on it. Furthermore I believe it is something that will become more relevant over time as more of these products are developed. Do you think one should be able to patent life forms? To prevent this from getting tied down in technicalities, I think a wide discretion to lower/higher life form distinction is to be given in the poll. Thus higher life form mean at the minimum of including humans and at the maximum should not include micro organisims. And by derivative, I mean things such as blood, cells etc derived from the life form.