Week 2: The Inequality Crises

This week in our Open Source for the Common Good course, we are focusing on the inequality crises, most specifically in the US. The use of intellectual property patents has skyrocketed since the beginning of the technological boom. In 1980, 112,000 intellectual property patent applications were filed and 62,000 were approved. In 2015, 630,000 applications were filed and 298,000 were approved. (USPTO) With such vast access to knowledge via the Internet and other forms of modern communication, the drive to beat the competition has drastically increased our belief in the need for patents and has consumed our economic and political spheres. For example, in the case Association for Molecular Pathology vs. Myriad Genetics, Myriad Genetics had claimed that they had a patent on two human genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2, mutations that predispose women to breast cancer. Until the court ruled in favor of the Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP), Myriad Genetics had charged $4000 for comprehensive testing on the two genes. However, gene tests can be administered for $1,000 and can sequence all 20,000 of a human’s genes as stated by the AMP. (NYTimes) Myriad Genetics, upon losing the case, claimed that they needed to maintain a high price level in order to continue to fund research. The use of intellectual property, and most specifically in this case, has led to extreme commercial greed. IP has generated a lack of desire for knowledge and has led to commercial schemes designed for the creation of wealth.

Another company that has reaped the lower class of wealth at the hands of IP is Monsanto. Monsanto created patents for their genetically modified seeds that they hoped would protect them from competitors who were trying to enter the market for GMO’s. However, Monsanto took this patent even further. Due to the effects of cross-pollination, the genetically modified seeds traveled to other farms, leading Monsanto to claim that the farmers must pay them or face the possibility of a lawsuit. Monsanto has filed 145 lawsuits against farmers who have “improperly reused their patented seeds” and they have yet to lose a case. (Monsanto Lawsuits) Monsanto is just another example of commercial greed that comes at the hands of the lower class.

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The Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, was a government sponsored, international research project with the goal of mapping all of the genes in the human genome. It was a 13 year project that represented OSD at its finest. Through public effort, the project was completed light-years before any private institution would have been able to. Not only was this project groundbreaking in the world of genetics, but it paved the way for exponential growth in the health industry. Discoveries of vaccines and mutations quickly became much more plausible (and eventually even created in some cases). All knowledge is based on prior knowledge and the Human Genome Project created an incredible database that has led to life-saving discoveries. If we removed commercial greed in our society and became more focused on knowledge and discovery, we could see incredible progression in multiple fields.

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