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BioSocieties

pp 1–22 | Cite as

Patents and the challenge of ‘open source’ in an emergent biological commons or … the strange case of Betty Crocker and the mouse

  • Bronwyn ParryEmail author
Original Article

Abstract

Patent has long been presumed to be an essential mechanism for realising the value of intellectual labour invested in the manufacture of biological inventions. By examining how the creators of engineered mice strains deposited at the Jackson Laboratory have utilised patent, I here explore the paradoxical matter of why they have not asserted their rights in the way anticipated by patent advocates. The emergence of new open source economies in mammalian genetic resources (the Mouse Academic Commons) has served to valorise collaborative working and iterative forms of experimentation. Engineered mouse strains are, in this context, best conceived of as an experimental space or biological commons open to re-invention by all. The key issue of how individual donors can protect the integrity of their donated ‘works’ and capitalize on the intellectual labour invested in their creation remains, however, largely unexplored. Here I argue that value lies not in the model mouse or strain itself, but rather in the experimental techniques that assure its continued genetic integrity; and demonstrate how process patents and trademark are together deployed to assure the reliability of the personality, identity, and reputation of the protected strains; and with it the economic viability of a biotechnological commons.

Keywords

Biological commons Model organisms Intellectual property Open source Craft Bioinformation Trademark 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Gail Davies for first alerting me to the IPR issues associated with model mice and to her and Sarah Franklin for our later conversations on the topic. I would also like to thank David Einhorn for enlightening me on the legal battles that ensued over Jax’s efforts to keep their accessioned mice open source. Any errors of fact or interpretation remain my own. Additionally, I would like to sincerely thank my reviewers for their detailed and highly insightful comments on an earlier draft. Lastly I’d like to thank Sally for her patience in living with these mice in her house for so long!

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Global Health and Social MedicineKing’s College LondonLondonUK

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