The Politics of Law: A Progressive Critique

By David Kairys | Go to book overview

KEITH AOKI


11
THE STAKES OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAW

THE second largest export of the United States is not comprised of iron, wood, or plastic. It doesn't grow from the ground, and it's not assembled in factories. This increasingly vital component of the U.S. gross national product and the object of increasingly fractious international controversy is ownership and control over a broad range of intellectual properties: Mickey Mouse, McDonald's, Madonna, numinous digital bytes, and unique DNA sequences. Nor are the consequences only financial or limited to ownership and control. For example, Monsanto, a multinational agrochemical corporation based in the United States, recently genetically engineered and patented soybean and cotton seeds amenable to direct applications of another patented Monsanto product, the broad-spectrum herbicide RoundupTM. These seeds are called Roundup ReadyTM, and they have a unique characteristic: crops will die if they are sprayed with broad-spectrum herbicides made by other companies.1

Not long ago, intellectual property was a somewhat eccentric and arcane area far from the center stage of American law and best left to technical experts. However, in the past few decades, intellectual property law and policy have moved to the front of the legal agenda in controversies both within and between nations. Recent domestic developments include patents in living organisms, proposals to prohibit temporary copies of computer documents in computer random access memory, and unprecedented protection of dilution of a trademark's distinct meaning. Internationally, trends such as the concentration of media protection under the umbrella of a decreasing number of transnational corporations, the uncontrolled and perhaps uncontrollable spread of digital communications networks, and the prevalence of uncompensated bio-

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