The Mutability of Biotechnology Patents: From Unwieldy Products of Nature to Independent 'Object/s'

Theory, Culture and Society 27 (1):110-129 (2010)
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Abstract

This article details how patent law works to create discrete, immutable biological ‘objects’. This socio-legal maneuver is necessary to distinguish these artifacts from the unwieldy realm of the natural world. The creation of ‘objects’ also serves the interests of capital, where a stable, unchanging, immutable object goes hand in hand with commodification. Yet this stabilization is incomplete. Pointing to a variety of different examples, this article illustrates how biotech patents do not speak to specific, immutable things. Biotech patents, rather, are better understood as ontologically fluid, which is to say their identity cannot be ‘fixed’ — or, at least, not without undermining the very existence of today’s biotechnology regime. The article concludes by speaking briefly about how this mutability is perpetuating certain inequalities, particularly between holders of various property forms.

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