Genome research is simultaneously creating important new forms of property and exponentially growing quantities of data in the public domain. In this context of rapid scientific change and extensive commercial activity, the appropriation of genes, genomes and DNA fragments has inspired ongoing controversy. Most discussion of genomic property has focused on legal rule-making concerning patents, treating property issues as a matter of law and policy rather than science. In general, these discussions have assumed that the Patent and Trademark Office, the legal brief, and the court decision - not the laboratory - are the critical sites of property construction. Making knowledge and making property rights are treated as two distinct moves, separated temporally and institutionally. Knowledge is made in the laboratory; property is secured in the worlds of law and commerce.
This chapter argues that understanding the creation of scientific property requires looking not only at the law but also at the laboratory in order to appreciate how appropriation mechanisms are institutionalized in specific systems for conducting scientific work. Legal knowledge and practices do not exist in a universe that is somehow separate from scientific knowledge and practices (Jasanoff 1995; Cambrosio and Keating 1995). To restrict the study of the creation of high-technology property to the legal decisions that “follow” it, while neglecting the laboratory, is to cripple analysis; for property - and practices that shape the boundaries of ownership - are deeply embedded in laboratories and the routines of scientific life, and they shape a laboratory's internal operations and relations with the outside world. In particular, I argue that institutionalizing new forms of scientific work involves the co-production of technical and social orders capable of simultaneously making knowledge and governing appropriation. An analysis of an effort to build a system for genome mapping at the end of the 1980s provides an empirical example. Data are drawn from a study of genome mapping and sequencing using participant observation and interviewing in genome laboratories and other relevant sites.