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Who Owns YouReview - Who Owns You
The Corporate Gold Rush to Patent Your Genes
by David Koepsell
Wiley-Blackwell, 2009
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H.,
Apr 13th 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 15)

Who Owns You? is a book principally about genes and patents.  The author, David Koepsell, is an Assistant Professor at the Technology University of Delft, in The Netherlands; Koepsell is also a Senior Fellow at the 3TU Centre for Ethics and Technology, in The Netherlands.  The writing of Koepsell is expertly critical and thoughtfully opinionated.  The substantive matter comprising the text is notable for its esoteric nature.  A thematic message powerfully pervading the text is that, in Koepsell's view, the area of gene patenting is rife with controversial concerns.  As evaluated by Koepsell, the thicket of thorny issues implanted in the field of gene patenting has entwined roots of eclectically diverse origin, reaching to law, science, ethics and economics.  The vast array of intellectually provocative questions raised directly, or indirectly, by the discerning commentary of Koepsell is a great strength of the book.

The substance of the text is supported by a bedrock of referenced research materials.  Citations for referenced materials are presented in the "Notes" section, adjoining the text; some of the references, in the Notes, present briefly annotated comment.

Stylistically, as in substance, the book as written is tilted fairly steeply towards a professional reading audience.

The intellectual concoction brewed by Koepsell has a lot of law in it.  As unraveled skillfully by Koepsell, the knot of law related strands tied to the question (posed by the book's title) of who owns you is a tree replete with many litigious branches.  These branches, as identified by Koepsell, include:  What does "ownership" mean?  Should the law allow individual ownership of genes?  Or, are genes part of a common heritage?  Should genes be regarded legally as being part of the "commons"?

Genes, as explicated by Koepsell, are associated with an expansive range of legally complex issues relating to intellectual property and patents.  Are genes, for instance, a form of "intellectual property"?  Is there a compelling basis, in intellectual property law, to patent genes?  If so, why are genes patentable?  Should genes associated with particular diseases be patentable?

Koepsell additionally ponders the practical, real life import of gene patents.  For example, as a practical matter, how might gene patents impact scientific innovation?  In real life, do possible litigation concerns and royalty costs associated with gene patents possibly impede scientific research?  What might be the real life effects of disallowing the patenting of genes?  Are there legally viable alternatives to gene patenting?

In another legal vein, what privacy and autonomy concerns may be associated with genetic information?

A picture showing some of the science, of genes, is painted by the skilled brush, of Koepsell.  The painting shows details pertinent to sundry, gene related concerns.  How, for instance, do genes work?  How do genes define an "individual"?  What is the genetic meaning of "species"?  With regard to genes, what is the relation between individuals and species?  What is "personhood"?  What is the connection between persons and genes?

Over the course of the text, Koepsell uses multiple writing instruments.  One of them is for ethics.  The part of the textual composition composed of ethics sheds questioning light on the area of genes and patents.  For example, is intellectual property protection of genes ethically acceptable?  Is it ethical to claim ownership of genes particularly by means of patents?  Is there adequate ethical clarity, at this time, concerning gene patenting?

In a different ethics vein, how should genetic information ethically be used by employers and insurers?

Another of the writing instruments of Koepsell is used to pen discourse focusing on gene patenting in the context of economics.  And again, nettlesome questions are raised by the discourse of Koepsell.  These questions extend to the economic value and ramifications of patenting genes.

It may be opined critically that, because the gamut of issues addressed by Koepsell is interdisciplinary in nature, the reader may have been served even better if Koepsell had structured the book as an edited collection of papers culled from experts in disparate professional disciplines joined in some manner to the area of genes and patents.

An added criticism may be that Koepsell's intellectual camera has taken a still snapshot of the area of gene patenting at a particular moment in time, but the resolving of vexing questions linked to the patenting of genes is a movie in progress.

  In quite instructive fashion, however, the intellectually enlightening flashlight of Koepsell beams considerably illumining light on many issues and intricacies connected with gene patents.  And Koepsell's thoughtful pondering of unresolved complexities tethered to gene patenting may help foster further debate regarding this contention laden area.

The book's edifying substance is highly relevant to universities and corporations, importantly including insurance, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

The rich wealth of information mined by Koepsell's intellectual toil likewise should be of greatly appealing interest to many professionals, including:  geneticists, biologists, biomedical scientists, intellectual property scholars, patent public interest and healthcare lawyers, judges, legislators, bioethicists, genetic counselors, and health policy makers.


© 2010 Leo Uzych


Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.


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