Linux for Lettuce
October 11, 2014 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Linux for Lettuce - Myers contends that, when applied to plants, patents are stifling. They discourage sharing, and sharing is the foundation of successful breeding. That’s because his work is essentially just assisting natural evolution: He mates one plant with another, which in turn makes new combinations of genes from which better plants are selected. The more plants there are to mix, the more combinations are made, and the more opportunities there are to create better plants. Even some breeders who work for the companies that are doing the patenting still believe in—indeed, long for—the ability to exchange seed.
posted by CrystalDave (31 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Letux?
posted by leotrotsky at 6:23 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Monsanto should be treated as an enemy of the Kingdoms Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaea and Bacteria, and nuked from orbit.
posted by smcameron at 6:40 PM on October 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


Interesting article. I'm not even close to jumping on any nuke Monsanto bandwagon, the software metaphor makes sense to me and the breeders deserve to be paid for their work. Is an open source competitor also a great idea? Hell yeah. I don't see how it could be a bad thing for anyone.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:53 PM on October 11, 2014


I am 100% behind anyone who wants to bust up seed patents, but likening this to Linux gave me a momentary "oh god what if that meant women would make up less than 5% of the agriculture workforce, as they do in open source."

this whole gummergape nightmare is coloring everything I see for me right now.
posted by gusandrews at 7:01 PM on October 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


Seedless oranges, watermelons and pears.
Zombies.
posted by Mblue at 7:14 PM on October 11, 2014


Patents already cover everything from “low pungency” onions to “brilliant white” cauliflower...
How do you get a patent on a trait? Isn't this like patenting a "fast car" or a "red tool"? Doesn't the patent have to be explicit about the mechanism, like "we made this car fast with this specific new transmission design"? Wouldn't a plant patent have to say, "we made the cauliflower brilliant white with this specific new biochemical pathway using these specific genes?"

Just like somebody else can make a fast car with some other innovation, can't somebody else make a brilliant white cauliflower with a clean-room implementation that uses a different biochemical pathway and different genes?

Or am I way behind on patents?

Anyway, good for these guys to start creating a sort of GPL for plants. As much of a raving prophet as Richard Stallman can seem sometimes, he was a prophet whose intellectual property ravings all came true, and whose solution of using copyright and patent law against itself has proven the strongest protection that people who want to share and be a part of a sharing community have got to date.

It's sad that the response of people who just want to share has had to come to this, fighting IP fire with IP fire, but it's better to have an effective fighting tactic than nothing.
posted by clawsoon at 7:18 PM on October 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


Also: This is a great example of professionals who embody the whole of professionalism, including the part where a profession is a calling that often involves doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do regardless of the profit motive, trying to claim their profession back from the people who think that everything is made better by adding the profit motive to it.
posted by clawsoon at 7:36 PM on October 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


the breeders deserve to be paid for their work.

It's not like they haven't been. They were just forced to innovate.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:16 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


This should definitely be called GNU/Lettuce.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:34 AM on October 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


The application was given a “Final Rejection.”

And yet, as Myers told me at the picnic table in September, “That’s not necessarily final.” .... some examiners simply “cave and grant the broader claims as they get worn down by the attorneys’ arguments.”


There, the law is reasonable but just like the Software Patent Trolls big money can warp and abuse the laws for the benefit of big money.
posted by sammyo at 5:27 AM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


sammyo: "big money can warp and abuse the laws for the benefit of big money."

Is there anything big money cannot warp and abuse for the benefit of big money?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:18 AM on October 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've long thought that patenting living organisms (even genetically modified ones) makes no sense from a logical perspective since patents are intended to control who gets to reproduce what but plants and animals have a bad habit of not reading contracts.

Monsanto seems to have made the bulk of its money lately by pretending ignorance of basic biology (animals breed! plants cross-pollinate! DNA spreads!), even while earning most of that money through its knowledge of that same biology. At this point it's hard not see them as less intent on protecting their innovations than on taking over a large portion of the world's food supply (it's a bold, ambitious plan; it's also moustache-twirlingly evil).

It's curious that the Supreme Court allowed patents on GMOs since it's really not in the public's best interests to allow a de facto monopoly and set up a single point of failure (or even just a few points of failure) for food supplies, which seems to be pretty clearly where this is headed.

I'm aware of the argument that Monsanto spent a lot of money on genetically modifying organisms, and that they deserve to be compensated for it, however I really don't give a shit--I think the public's food supply is more important than Monsanto's profit.
posted by johnofjack at 9:42 AM on October 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


What part of Monsanto's business implies they are pretending ignorance of biology?
posted by Drinky Die at 10:42 AM on October 12, 2014


The part where they're patenting something which has it in its nature to spread itself? The part where they keep a dossier of farmers who aren't buying their seed, then sue the farmers if they find part of their patented DNA in the farmer's crops (not all of it, just part, as if cross-pollination were totally not a thing that happens)? The part where the way to stop the lawsuit is to start buying your seed from Monsanto?

They're kind of like the mafia, except they're publicly traded and they tend to win in court.
posted by johnofjack at 10:53 AM on October 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


The part where they're patenting something which has it in its nature to spread itself?

So, you're issue isn't with Monsanto, you just don't believe in plant patents. That's fine.

The part where they keep a dossier of farmers who aren't buying their seed, then sue the farmers if they find part of their patented DNA in the farmer's crops (not all of it, just part, as if cross-pollination were totally not a thing that happens)?

Link?
posted by Drinky Die at 10:59 AM on October 12, 2014


I'm glad you asked. I don't remember where I originally read that--it seems like it must have been ten years ago at least--but I haven't been able to find any evidence at all that Monsanto has sued someone for cross-pollination contaminating their product. The closest I found to something on the subject was a recent lawsuit trying to prevent Monsanto from suing over inadvertent contamination, but the Supreme Court threw the case out.

There was the case of Monsanto v. Schmeiser (that's a long but very interesting judgment), but that case wasn't about cross-pollination; rather, the farmer claimed that seeds blew onto his property. Still, I think he ruined any chance at prevailing since he determined that his fields were contaminated with Roundup-ready seeds but kept growing them, selling them, and replanting seeds from them. (I think it would have been an even more interesting case if he had destroyed the entire fields' worth of crops and brought suit against Monsanto for loss of revenue--because then what would be at issue is Monsanto's stewardship of its own intellectual property rather than his apparently willful infringement of it--but that's not at all what happened.)
posted by johnofjack at 12:33 PM on October 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


He in fact used Round Up to isolate contaminated seed and intentionally harvested it for planting the next year. Had he simply treated it like any other field that was not Round Up ready, I assume he would have been fine. This was likely the case you heard about ten years ago, the details were widely misreported.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:52 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


So, it comes down to the fundamental question of, "Should plants be patentable?" If not, then he is right. The seeds grew from his plants, they belong to him to do whatever he wants with. If they should be patentable, then what he did would be patent infringement under any reasonable system. There are valid arguments on both sides of the patent question.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:00 PM on October 12, 2014


Had he simply treated it like any other field that was not Round Up ready, I assume he would have been fine.

Not necessarily:
I turn to submissions of the defendants in reply to the claim for infringement. First, the defendants urge that there was no intention to infringe the patent. However, it is well settled that infringement is any act which interferes with the full enjoyment of the monopoly rights of the patentee as Mr. Justice Rothstein notes in Lishman v. Erom Roche Inc. (1996), 68 C.P.R. (3d) 72 at 77 (F.C.T.D.). Further, intention is immaterial, for "infringement occurs when the essence of an invention is taken", regardless of the intention of the infringer.
He didn't even use Roundup on the crops of Roundup Ready seeds he saved; that also didn't matter for the question of infringement:
The principal defence raised by the defendants is that they did not use the patent because they did not spray their 1998 canola crop with Roundup after it had commenced growing. Thus they say they did not make use of the invention as the inventor intended and so, did not use the patented gene or cell.

In my opinion, whether or not that crop was sprayed with Roundup during its growing period is not important. Growth of the seed, reproducing the patented gene and cell, and sale of the harvested crop constitutes taking the essence of the plaintiffs' invention, using it, without permission. In so doing the defendants infringed upon the patent interests of the plaintiffs.
It was a 5-4 decision, though, and the dissenting judges said, guys, we decided two years ago in the Harvard mouse case that higher organisms can't be patented. The majority (with a couple of new faces) said nah, the Harvard mouse is completely different.
posted by clawsoon at 4:03 PM on October 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


That's all somewhat beside the point for the issue in the article, though. With first-to-file patents, you can create something, share it freely, and then find yourself unable to use or develop it anymore because somebody else has patented it. The system actively punishes generous researchers.
posted by clawsoon at 4:13 PM on October 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


This is odd, because I'm firmly in the camp of anti-intellectual property rights to begin with. To say the least, they currently and have for a bit certainly protected the well-lawyered and litigious class far more than they protect ideas or the people who have them.

So this piece preaches to a choir that I'd happily lead, but only in the sense that "Thou shalt not kill" seems like a non-starter. I will say that motherfucking plants, if that is to be a front-line, are a good place to draw the battle-line and wage the war. Cuz show me an actual human being who doesn't think this is wrong. I'm pretty sure it's just corporations talking* and people rationalizing on their behalf.

As US-based feminists are against genital mutilation, I am against this.

*of course robots can talk
posted by es_de_bah at 7:51 PM on October 12, 2014


and while I think I've already played my hippy card heavily...

Drinky Die, these are not hard-to-find stories, nor are they generally discredited. And, even if that kind of story is all hype:

The argument that patenting self-sustaining organic material may not be a hard yes/no, but there seems to be no good reason for it right now. Even disregarding that, there certainly hasn't been a well-informed national or international debate to make such an important legal leap. Sadly, that's a leap that has been made and should be reconsidered. As much as one might hate to drag the issue into the morass of uninformed public opinion, wouldn't you hate more to lift it up into the ratified air of private interests having the lion's share of influence on law?

also, I kinda think yr trolin. But I don't want to cast aspersions.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:21 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Drinky Die, these are not hard-to-find stories

Okay, find them for me.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:05 PM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


es_de_bah: "Drinky Die, these are not hard-to-find stories, nor are they generally discredited."

Echoing Drinky Die, yeah, please find some, if they're so easy to find and numerous.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:19 AM on October 13, 2014


[Note: please don't do the "I'm not SAYING you're trolling, but" thing. If you do think someone is trolling, use the contact form or go to Metatalk, and if you don't, just skip it altogether and concentrate on the topic rather than the person. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 12:26 AM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


So, it comes down to the fundamental question of, "Should plants be patentable?" If not, then he is right. The seeds grew from his plants, they belong to him to do whatever he wants with. If they should be patentable, then what he did would be patent infringement under any reasonable system.

Sue the plants, then. They did the "copying" (although my high school biology suggests they may have a transformative use defense.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:00 PM on October 13, 2014


Yes, like you sue the laser printer when someone copies a book illegally.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:02 PM on October 13, 2014


Autonomous copiers doing mashups? OK.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:16 PM on October 13, 2014


No, copiers that are copying the way a human is intelligently directing them to, if we are talking about this case.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:25 PM on October 13, 2014


The dialog box sucks.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:33 PM on October 13, 2014


ChurchHatesTucker: "The dialog box sucks."

No, the dialog box is great. Your dialog box is the one that sucks.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 1:19 PM on October 16, 2014


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