The Future of Code


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Jun 15, 2008 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

I went to watch a movie at our local "Art" movie theater the other day. The movie was called "The Future of Food" by Deborah Koons Garcia, which talked about the issues of generically modified food.

Without going into all of the issues surrounding altering genes in food, one part of the film was devoted to the fact that some farmers were being sued by companies who found genetically modified grain in the farmers' fields without the farmers having purchased the grain. The farmers claimed that the grain was carried there by the wind or birds, and that they had no way of keeping the modified grain out of their fields, nor even knowing that it was there. "No defense" was the reply of the seed companies, according to the film, since the genes were patented and the farmer was obviously including those seeds in their crop. Unfortunately it seemed as if a lot of courts were agreeing with the seed companies, not the farmers, and these issues were causing the farmers to destroy many of the seeds that they grew to renew their crops every year.

The film also discussed the issue of seed companies going to seed banks, "finding" unpatented genes in plants, and applying for patents on them. The companies would then sue farmers for using genetic material that the company had spent no time or money in developing.

I found this a bit disheartening. I remember that I learned in elementary school that pollen and seeds were spread by the wind and birds, and that this was a perfectly plausible explanation of why these genetically modified seeds were ending up in farmer's fields. I also thought about the similarity between software companies taking out frivolous patents on software concepts that had existed for a long time, but had simply not been previously patented.

I thought to myself, if these courts and the legislators can not understand about "the birds and the bees", then how can we get them to understand about the complex issues of computer software and patents?



  • I have eaten at many places that serve generically modified food

    Denny's comes to mind. I read this posting because I was amused by the typo but I saw the same, or a similar, documentary the other day and was disgusted that the patent system is being abused in this way. We can only hope that the reason that eventually prevailed in the SCO case will percolate throughout the rest of the legal system. Unfortunately, I think IBM had a lot to do with the outcome of that case and if those who have the best lawyers win then the farmers won't stand a chance in this fight.
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