The newly-sequenced human genome is like a vast library --- with millions of books written in mostly unknown languages. People can roam the stacks of this library ... pull books from the shelves and browse them ... discover new patterns among the symbols ... recognize occasional words ... correlate phrases ... begin to decipher sentences ... and eventually learn to read and understand the contents of this great collection of information.
But it's a slow, difficult process, not likely to pay off quickly. We can make it harder on ourselves by prematurely granting monopoly rights --- patents, for instance --- on parts of the genomic library: giving ownership to early explorers who don't actually know what they're reading, but who glimpse a few key words and secretly hope to get lucky and stake out a claim to turf that will turn into a fortuitous gold mine. Yes, fencing off intellectual property encourages early investment. It also encourages misallocation of resources, general unfairness, and slower long-term progress in human understanding.
Tuesday, February 27, 2001 at 06:05:47 (EST) = Datetag20010227