What is nanotechnology?
ETC Group reports on trends in intellectual property relating to nano-scale technologies. With nanotechnology, the reach of exclusive monopoly patents is not just on life, but all of nature. Accordingly, ETC Group refers to nanotech's "second nature" patents.
Swiss gene giant Syngenta, the world’s largest agrochemical corporation and third largest seed company (see tables) has applied for patents that could effectively allow the company to monopolize key gene sequences that are vital for rice breeding as well as dozens of other plant species. While the Genome Giant "donates" rice germplasm and information to public researchers with one hand, it is attempting to monopolize rice resources with the other. Governments, public sector researchers and the United Nations must re-evaluate and reform their cozy connections to companies like Syngenta.
In sharp contrast to the political climate one year ago, the potential health and environmental risks of some nano-scale technologies are now being openly discussed in Europe and North America. In recent months, governments on both sides of the Atlantic have reluctantly conceded that current safety and health regulations may not be adequate to address the special exigencies of nano-scale materials.
A new study revealing that engineered carbon molecules known as "buckyballs" cause brain damage in fish is one more brick in the wall of evidence suggesting that manufactured nanoparticles are harmful to the environment and to health.
J. Craig Venter, the genomics mogul and scientific wizard who recently created a unique living organism from scratch in a matter of days, is searching for pay-dirt in the biodiversity-rich Galapagos Islands. From his 95-ft. yacht, Sorcerer II, Venter is hop-scotching around the globe collecting microbial diversity from gene-rich seas and shores every 200 miles.(1) Venter's ship has already sampled in the Sargasso Sea (North Atlantic), Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador (Galapagos), Chile and is now en route to French Polynesia (Tahiti, Bora Bora, etc.).
As negotiations come to a head in Kuala Lumpur at the first meeting of the Biosafety Protocol of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) the United States along with Canada and a few Latin American states seem poised to render the 86-nation agreement irrelevant. News earlier this week that the Argentine Government has offered to collect taxes from its GM soybean farmers in lieu of royalty payments has stunned many delegations attending the meeting in the Malaysian capital.
In a paper released 28th January 2004, five University of Toronto (UT) ethicists accuse Prince Charles of "fear-mongering" and ETC Group of condemning poor nations to exports of "bananas and t-shirts." The authors speak enthusiastically about the potential of nanotechnology to improve conditions in the developing world and they express dismay that, in their view, "commentators" are now focusing primarily on risks instead of benefits. ETC Group responds.
Since 1994, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has been promising "benefit sharing" to Indigenous Peoples in return for access to biodiversity (i.e., bioprospecting). During these ten years, Indigenous Peoples and farming communities have worked long and hard to realize this goal.
Over half of the world's 100 largest economic entities are transnational corporations (TNCs), not nations. TNCs have unprecedented power to shape social, economic and trade policies. Corporate hegemony is usurping the role and responsibilities of national governments, threatening democracy and human rights. Over the past two decades ETC Group (formerly as RAFI) has monitored corporate power and trends in the "life sciences." Consolidation, technological convergence and non-merger corporate alliances are among the trends examined in this issue of ETC Communiqué.