Biotechnology and Communication: The Meta-Technologies of Information

By Sandra Braman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
5

Justifying Enclosure? Intellectual Property
and Meta-Technologies 1
Christopher May
University of the West of England

As we enter the new millennium, the use of powerful information and communications technologies in the biosciences has led to an expansion of the possibilities for the commodification of genetic information. This is hardly unproblematic. Intellectual property is grounded on an asserted metaphorical link between material things and ideas. As David Ritchie discusses at length (chap. 2, this volume), metaphors drawing a parallel between information (or ideas) and physical materials can be, at the very least, misleading. When intellectual property (re)constructs valuable knowledge as property, and critics argue this encloses (makes property of) what was previously part of the global knowledge commons, the area of dispute is the use of metaphor to drive a legal regime. In the case of the human genome, the actual idea of owning natural genetic resources is often highlighted, not least of all as the ownership of rights to human genetic information is often equated with the ownership of humans. I start by looking at some of the theoretical issues underlying these debates and then relate these problems to biotechnology as a site of meta-technological convergence (Braman, 1990/2002) before briefly exploring a possible political response. Indeed the interpenetration of information and biotechnologies as meta-technologies has made the question of markets for property in knowledge and information ever more crucial and in need of a political rather than a merely technical analysis.

A central issue in the history of intellectual property has been how to balance the private rights awarded to those who develop important (and

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