May 18, 2009

ACLU Challenging The BRCA1/2 Patent [4:50 pm]

ACLU Challenges Patents On Breast Cancer Genes

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation, a not-for-profit organization affiliated with Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law PUBPAT, filed a lawsuit today charging that patents on two human genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer stifle research that could lead to cures and limit womens options regarding their medical care. Mutations along the genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, are responsible for most cases of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. The lawsuit argues that the patents on these genes are unconstitutional and invalid.

“Knowledge about our own bodies and the ability to make decisions about our health care are some of our most personal and fundamental rights,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “The government should not be granting private entities control over something as personal and basic to who we are as our genes. Moreover, granting patents that limit scientific research, learning and the free flow of information violates the First Amendment.”

[...] The patents granted to Myriad give the company the exclusive right to perform diagnostic tests on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and to prevent any researcher from even looking at the genes without first getting permission from Myriad. According to the lawsuit, such monopolistic control over these genes hampers clinical diagnosis and serves as a disincentive for research because Myriad not only has the right to enforce its patents against other entities but also has the rights to future mutations discovered on the BRCA2 gene. The gene patents are also illegal under patent law because genes are “products of nature.”

“Patents are meant to protect inventions, not things that exist in nature like genes in the human body,” said Chris Hansen, a staff attorney with the ACLU. “Genes isolated from the human body are no more patentable than gold extracted from a mountain.”

[...] Plaintiff and supporter statements and a copy of the complaint can be found online at: www.aclu.org/brca

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The e-Volution of Retail [8:53 am]

a couple of articles on the opportunities tying of digital data collection with aspects of retailing - some new, and some not so new:

  • Just Browsing? A Web Store May Follow You Out the Door (pdf)

    IF you try on a sweater in a department store dressing room, but choose not to buy it, a persistent sales clerk won’t pursue you into the street yelling, “Hey, are you sure?” Nor will you receive a call at your home the next day to check again if you want to complete the purchase.

    But in the online world, visitors to Web stores who touch the goods but leave without buying may be subjected instantaneously to “remarketing,” in the form of nagging e-mail messages or phone calls.

    A new Web service, called Abandonment Tracker Pro, is in beta testing and scheduled for formal release next month. [...]

  • What Does Your Credit-Card Company Know About You? (pdf)

    “I think I can do something for you, though,” [credit card bill collector Rudy] Santana continued, glancing at his screen. It was filled with information about the man, including the fact that he had recently sold his home at a loss. Some of this information had been sent by the man’s bank to Santana’s employer, Sunrise Credit Services, which collects delinquent debts for companies like Citigroup, Bank of America and HSBC. Santana’s company had added notes, too, including helpful tips — he is easier to reach in the mornings, for example — and new ways to contact him.

    “Look,” Santana said. “I know you’re angry at your wife. One step to ending that anger is putting this debt behind you. It will really help you find peace. You owe about $29,000. How much do you think you can pay?”

    “Well, how much are you gonna help me?” the man shot back. “These banks got all this taxpayer money from the government, and they’re the ones who ruined the market for my house! I helped bail them out. I think the banks should be paying me, instead of trying to suck all the life out of us they can!”

    [...] Luckily for the industry, small groups of executives at most of the large firms have spent the last decade studying cardholders from almost every angle, and collection agencies have developed more sophisticated dunning techniques. They have sought to draw psychological and behavioral lessons from the enormous amounts of data the credit-card companies collect every day. They’ve run thousands of tests and crunched the numbers on millions of accounts. One result of all that labor is the conversation between Santana — a former bouncer whose higher education consists solely of corporate-sponsored classes like “the Psychology of Collections” — and the man from Massachusetts. When Santana contacted the man last month, he was armed with detailed information about his life and trained in which psychological approaches were most likely to succeed.

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Playing With Fire [8:40 am]

Fordham Law Students Teach Scalia About Privacy and the Web (pdf)

This spring, the students of an elective course on Internet privacy at Fordham Law School experienced a number of fascinating “teaching moments” during an assignment meant to demonstrate how much personal information is floating around online.

The assignment from the class’s professor, Joel R. Reidenberg, was, admittedly, a bit provocative: create a dossier about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia from what can be found on the Internet.

Why Justice Scalia? Well, the class had been discussing his recent dismissive comments about Internet privacy concerns at a conference. His summation, as reported by The Associated Press: “Every single datum about my life is private? That’s silly.”

[...] Justice Scalia declined an interview request through a spokeswoman but he did give a response about the episode to Above the Law.

“I stand by my remark at the Institute of American and Talmudic Law conference that it is silly to think that every single datum about my life is private. I was referring, of course, to whether every single datum about my life deserves privacy protection in law.

“It is not a rare phenomenon that what is legal may also be quite irresponsible. That appears in the First Amendment context all the time. What can be said often should not be said. Prof. Reidenberg’s exercise is an example of perfectly legal, abominably poor judgment. Since he was not teaching a course in judgment, I presume he felt no responsibility to display any.”

A teaching moment, but not necessarily a learned one.

Solove’s blog: Concurring Opinions; entries on this article’s topic — Justice Scalia’s Conception of Privacy, Justice Scalia’s Dossier: Interesting Issues about Privacy and Ethics and Justice Scalia’s Dossier: Joel Reidenberg Responds

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Content, Pricing and Markets [8:35 am]

A couple of articles on the business of e-content:

  • Steal This Book (for $9.99) (pdf)

    Just how much is a good read worth?

    David Baldacci, the best-selling thriller author, learned what some of his fans think when “First Family,” his latest novel, went on sale last month. Amazon initially charged a little over $15 for a version for its Kindle reading device, and readers revolted.

    Several posted reviews objecting that the electronic edition of the book wasn’t selling for $9.99, the price Amazon has promoted as its target for the majority of e-books in the Kindle store. Hundreds more have joined an informal boycott of digital books priced at more than $9.99.

    “I love Baldacci’s writing,” wrote one reader, who decided not to buy. “Sorry Mr. B — price comes down or you lose a lot or readers. I’ll skip your books and move on!”

    It was a chilling sentiment for authors and publishers, who have grown used to an average cover price of $26 for a new hardcover. Now, in the evolving Kindle world, $9.99 is becoming the familiar price. But is that justified just because paper has been removed from the equation?

  • Scribd Invites Writers to Upload Work and Name Their Price (pdf)

    Turning itself into a kind of electronic vanity publisher, Scribd, an Internet start-up here, will introduce on Monday a way for anyone to upload a document to the Web and charge for it.

    The Scribd Web site is the most popular of several document-sharing sites that take a YouTube-like approach to text, letting people upload sample chapters of books, research reports, homework, recipes and the like. Users can read documents on the site, embed them in other sites and share links over social networks and e-mail.

    In the new Scribd store, authors or publishers will be able to set their own price for their work and keep 80 percent of the revenue. They can also decide whether to encode their documents with security software that will prevent their texts from being downloaded or freely copied.

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