Academic highlight: Myriad Genetics and the history of intellectual property in the United States
on Jun 11, 2013 at 2:28 pm
Can human genes be patented? That is the claim at the heart of Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., which was argued in April and is likely to be decided over the next few weeks. For those interested in the case, and the convoluted history of intellectual property protection in the United States, I recommend an unusual but terrific academic source: The Public Radio program BackStory. BackStory features three University of Virginia historians, Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh, each specializing in a different period in American history. Their goal is to “tear a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths, . . . revealing the connections (and disconnections) between past and present.” A few weeks ago BackStory broadcast a show on the history of intellectual property in the United States, using the Myriad case as a springboard for discussion.
The wide-ranging program began with a discussion of Myriad Genetics, described Madison’s and Jefferson’s conflicting views on the best way to promote invention and creation, discussed Mark Twain’s ambivalence about copyright protection, and concluded with the debate on how to copyright a joke. As usual, Ayers, Onuf, and Balogh presented a complicated historical question in an accessible and interesting way, and the three of them clearly have a lot of fun doing it. I’m hoping that they will continue to use Supreme Court cases as inspiration for their programs. (If you live in the Washington, D.C., area, you can hear them at 6 a.m. on Sunday mornings on WAMU. But if you aren’t lucky enough to have a one-year old who wakes you up at that hour, then you can listen online here.)