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close this bookBiotechnology and the Future of World Agriculture (GRAIN, 1991)
close this folderControlling the profit
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAn historical appraisal
View the documentThe great reversal
View the documentTightening the grip: the push for patents on life
View the documentBox: Twelve Reasons to say no to life patents
View the documentThe implications

(introduction...)

'Patents are a paradise for parasites.'
'Patents protection forms a stumbling block for the development of trade and industry.'
'The patent system is a playground for plundering patent agents and lawyers.'
(J. Geigy-Merian, Geigy Firm - later Ciba-Geigy, 1883) (1)

'It is Ciba-Geigy's position that legal protection of intellectual property serves the public interest by stimulating continuing investment in technological innovation.'
(John H. Duesing, Ciba-Geigy, 1989) (2)

One century might seem a long time. It was certainly long enough for companies like Ciba-Geigy to change their minds about what to think of intellectual property systems. From describing patent systems as a paradise for parasites to considering them to be serving the public interest is quite a leap indeed. In the 19th century, Geigy and colleagues from other Swiss firms were in a vehement battle against any form of patent protection and had managed five times to reject calls for a national referendum on the matter. When two referenda on patent protection were finally held in 1882 and 1886, they were successfully defeated, largely due to the intense lobbying activities of Geigy and friends.

Now, over one hundred years later, Ciba-Geigy sends company representatives all over the globe to promote stronger patent protection for everything that can be made in its laboratories; and that includes life forms. With almost emotional arguments, companies now try to convince the world that there is no progress, no development and no happiness without strong intellectual property systems. Those countries which do not have them are charged with 'theft' and 'piracy', and accused of putting national interest above 'internationally accepted principles of fair trade'. (3)