As we are working on exercises concerning monopoly, this story on patenting human body caught my attention. Since the 1980 Supreme Court decision allowed for patenting of human-made microorganism, there has been a deluge of patents on our cells and genes by the pharmaceutical companies.
One of the story concerns John Moore, a cancer patient who has had cells extracted from his body, ostensibly for the cancer treatment he is receiving. What he wasn't told however, was that his cells could be enormously profitable as the basis of some next-generation pharmaceutical. However when he sued over the rights of his cells, the California Supreme sided with the University of California, the public school who employed the researcher that took his cells.
I can understand and even appreciate the need to give incentives to certain monopolies. Faced with enormous fixed costs in research and development, the government grants exclusive rights to companies with breakthrough patents to earn an economic profit over a number of years as to encourage research. However this practice has led to the unforeseen effect of using patents to exert exclusive control on genes, cells, and other biological material to prevent other companies from engaging in competing research. Economic profit and government patents now perversely stand in the way of new discoveries, not to mention the very scary slippery slope of patenting pieces of the very building blocks of people.