David Koepsell is an author, philosopher, and attorney whose recent research focuses on the nexus of science, technology, ethics, and public policy. He is Assistant Professor, Philosophy Section, Faculty of Technology, Policy, and Management at the Technology University of Delft, in The Netherlands, and Senior Fellow, 3TU Centre for Ethics and Technology, The Netherlands. He is also the author of The Ontology of Cyberspace: Philosophy, Law, and the Future of Intellectual Property, as well as numerous scholarly articles on law, philosophy, science, and ethics. His latest book is Who Owns You? The Corporate Gold Rush to Patent Your Genes.
In this interview with D.J. Grothe, David Koepsell discusses the implications of corporations patenting parts of the human genome, and how current patent practices negatively impact basic scientific research in genetics. He reviews the history of the practice of patenting genes and contrasts private ownership of gene sequences found in nature with that of the public ownership of the work of the Human Genome Project. He contrasts discovery with invention, and argues that patents should apply only to the latter. He details the relationship of human genes being patented with the practices of big agribusiness owning engineered crops, such as Monsanto’s “terminator corn.” He discusses the ACLU’s recent lawsuit against Myriad Genetics on behalf of scientists and cancer patients, and how it may lead to one of the most important legal battles in the history of biotechnology. He talks about “upstream” and “downstream” patents, and how this impacts genetic research. And he discusses various solutions currently proposed for the problems resulting from private ownership of naturally occurring gene sequences.