Australia: You Can Patent Breast Cancer Genes

Isn't this the sort of stuff patents should apply to?

Isn’t this the sort of stuff patents should apply to?

A fascinating decision by the Federal Court of Australia this week, that will have some significant implications for research in coming years.

The full bench of the Federal Court of Australia has ruled that private companies do have the right to control human genes. The court upheld a decision from February 2013 that ruled patents on breast cancer genes were valid, because the method of isolating the gene created something new and could therefore be patented.

The reaction has been fairly swift from both the legal and scientific sectors.

Dr Luigi Palombia patent lawyer and Adjunct Professor in the School of Law at Murdoch University: “The decision ignores the bedrock principle of 400 years of patent law. Only an invention can be the subject of a patent. The decision ignores the scientific facts. It ignores good policy. And it ignores common sense. Australian ingenuity in the biological sciences is now handcuffed by this decision.”

Dr Palombi also questioned the inconsistencies at an international level:

“How is it possible that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously came to the exact opposite result in only three months? Despite the attempt by the Full Federal Court to try and differentiate the precise claims between the Australian and U.S. patents that Myriad has over the BRCA 1 genetic mutations, the so-called invention is the same.”

This inconsistency has ramifications for local researchers as well :

“At the end of the day, the Australian patent claims pieces of genetic material (BRCA 1 gene mutations) extracted from the human body are an ‘invention’. How is that something anyone invented? American scientists, universities and companies now have the freedom to ignore patents over isolated biological materials that are not ‘markedly different to any found in nature’, but Australian scientists, universities and companies cannot. This decision reinforces the need for the Australian parliament to change patent law in Australia.”

Paul GroganDirector of Advocacy at Cancer Council Australia, sees legislative change as being required:

“Given the unanimous Federal Court ruling is an interpretation of Australian law, the law itself needs to change to protect healthcare consumers from gene monopolies … The patents system should reward innovation and help deliver affordable healthcare, not stymie research and increase costs by allowing commercial entities to control the use of human genetic materials.”

I find it hard to disagree with either men – what’s your take?

[Release originally via Australian Science Media Centre]

Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

1. We talk quite a bit about virtual goods and their popularity. MMO Behemoth World of Warcraft proved it in the past week, selling hundreds of thousands of an in-game mount called the Celestial Steed at US$25 a pop. No-one but Blizzard software know how many they sold but given queues exceeded 140,000 at one stage, we do know the number is big.

2. The SLENZ project has completed its run, but here’s a great write-up of how the work done still has legs.

3. The legal actions keep on coming for Linden Lab, as discussed by Tateru Nino here.

4. Version 2.0.1 of the Second Life viewer is now available, and there’s now a fleshed out FAQ document for Viewer 2.

5. A sad piece of news: Singapore-based virtual worlds dynamo Andrew Peters, passed away after a battle with cancer on the 13th April. I had the opportunity to correspond with Andrew many times including via phone and he was certainly a man committed to his work and its outcomes. The full announcement of his death is given below, and Andrew’s sense of humour would have appreciated the title of the press release:

Andrew Peters, Singapore’s resident social media marketing guru, moves on to Heaven 2.0

Singapore, 22 April 2010 – Andrew Peters, Singapore-based social media marketing guru, passed away at 4.45am (NZ time) on Tuesday 13 April in Christchurch in his native New Zealand at the age of 47, after losing a secret battle with cancer.

With 25 years’ experience in publishing, public relations, sales and marketing for leading industry brands, he worked in Sydney in the second half of the 1980’s with ICL and Wang Computers, then with Anixter, Australian Consolidated Press and Project Media in the 1990’s, before setting up a branch in Singapore in 1999 for public relations agency McCorkell & Associates, as Vice President, Asia Pacific.

He joined Pacific West Communications – started in 2001 by his Singapore best friend and business associate Imran Omar, in 2005. As Regional Director Asia Pacific for Pacific West, he was responsible for strategic development, overseeing client portfolios, business development and providing counsel to deliver value-added solutions that delivered sustainable results for clients.

He was instrumental in founding the Internet Industry Association of Singapore (IIAS), and sat on the Executive Committee of Singapore-based ‘The Digital Movement’ – a non-profit set up to build a community of young leaders in web 2.0 and social media and connect them to overseas experts.

Example activities included Nexus 2007, the first major Web 2.0 conference in Southeast Asia, which brought together 700 of the best entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, bloggers and world class thinkers from companies like O’Reilly, Google, Microsoft, Lenovo, Salesforce, Second Life and Yahoo; and BlogOut – a gathering of the best technology bloggers. He also sat on the Advisory Board of the Association of Virtual Worlds.

Highly connected with online & offline web 2.0, virtual worlds and social media communities, he had roles with a number of entrepreneurial ventures, and a close interest in virtual worlds and gaming platforms.

His pioneering work in social media marketing paid off with the success of the first annual Tattoo Show in Singapore in 2008, which catered to a niche group of individuals who loved body art but who were too niche for mass media to cover on a daily basis, or with frequency before the event. Social media engagement was a way to generate pre-interest in the event, and allowed for near real-time coverage and the creation of related events.

Epitomising the theory of the ‘long tail’ made popular by Chris Anderson – a niche strategy of selling a large number of unique items in relatively small quantities; and using social media and traditional PR hand-in-hand, he drove 15,000 attendees to the event and in the process, created an online regional tattoo community of more than 4,000 members.

He worked on virtual worlds projects with Second Life, and helped bring Germany’s virtual worlds creator Metaversum Gmbh’s Twinity into Asia. He developed social media strategies for AUSTRADE Study in Australia Events, and was social media strategist for cable television talk show ‘Asia Uncut’, broadcast on the Star World Network across Asia. He put in place a social media strategy for Singapore-based online television reality show – the first Web TV Reality show, as online publicist for global audience acquisition & interaction, and was also social media strategist for a number of Malaysia-based clients.

With social media marketing still in its infancy, Andrew Peters independently pursued a ground-up strategy of connected community building, actively integrating people from outside the professional world and inspiring talented new content creators who became friends, passionate online collaborators and agents; to make full use of the free resources of the Internet medium.

Exemplifying many of the concepts outlined in David Meerman Scott’s best-seller ‘The World Wide Rave’, in which his work for the Singapore Tattoo Show is highlighted, he got people around the world talking about his personal and client brands, events and messages, building audiences from scratch and inspiring online interest communities to link on the Web by creating online buzz that drove buyers to the virtual and physical doorstep. He created value that people wanted to share, and made it easy for them to do so.

Variously characterised as witty, wry and genuine, while loving the ‘seriousness and silliness’ of social media and the ‘digital revolution’, his fierce belief in community give-back and his desire to help and coach others, exemplified a passion for creativity and diversity, and a desire to listen, learn and add value without hesitation. In his final year he was looking with collaborators, into book publishing offers and ideas for new reality TV shows.

He was laid to rest on 16th April in Christchurch, and his life and work is to be commemorated at a gathering of friends and collaborators in Singapore on 24th April.

He leaves behind, best friend and business associate Imran, adoptive parent Stan and sisters Holly and Kyro, birth mother Marlene and siblings Sandra, Karen, Barbara and David, and a host of online followers, collaborators and friends in Singapore and across the Asia Pacific region, and further afield. He has a virtual afterlife on Facebook and other social media sites (although he is no longer active on Twitter and Foursquare).

“In Loving memory of Andrew Peters”

Interzone’s Football MMO: local conflicts

In 2008, we mentioned the upcoming release of Interzone Futebol, a sporting MMO with some promise.

Over the past week, issues between local developers employed at the Western Australian office of Interzone and the US-based head office came to a head when Interzone’s VP of Business Development, Mike Turner, was confronted by employees.

Game Developer blog Tsumea have a good wrap of events, and for lots more detail, this blog has it in spades (and the Interzone Games URL now redirects to the blog). Finally, Interzone CEO Marty Brickey has responded to the allegations made over at Kotaku, as Seamus Byrne broke the story there in a big way.

The WA developers created the piece below to illustrate the context of what has been going on:

Like any disputes around intellectual property, employee entitlements and job security, it can be near impossible to get a clear overall picture. The video in question shows a bunch of obviously frustrated / angry employees and a defensive CEO not wanting to answer questions on the spot to a camera. The only certainty is that once it has reached to this stage, things have broken down to a level where no-one is likely to see a beneficial outcome.

One of the least certain aspects is why the transfer of game assets from Australia to Collision Games in Ireland – although the touted financial issues would likely be the driving force. Nor is there any reaction from publisher Gamigo on the situation.

The wash-up locally for this, is that Interzone Futebol may still see the light of day, but whether those who’ve worked on it to date get to share in those results is far from certain and arguably very unlikely.

Class action lawsuit leveled against Second Life’s Linden Lab

strokerzKevin Alderman’s Eros LLC, a Florida company devoted to mature content which started operating in Second Life way back when, has been the star attraction before. Alderman, also known as Stroker Serpentine in Second Life, has been well-known for his successful, adult business ventures, as well as two successful legal actions for virtual environment based copyright/trademark infringement (one vs Rase Kenzo AKA Thomas Simon, and one vs Volkov Cattaneo AKA Robert Leatherwood).

Alderman, in conjunction with Shannon Grei (known as Munchflower Zaius in Second Life) is now launching a class-action lawsuit against Linden Lab itself, alleging that (among other things) it profits from negligence and delay in dealing with trademark and copyright infringement issues, and that it also knowingly does so.

The plaintiffs’ case for willful infringement might seem a bit weaker in spots, but one area where it is on relatively certain ground is where Linden Lab is duly informed, and then fails to act or acts with egregious delay. In those circumstances, the Lab would be aware of the infringement, but continues to profit from it (directly or indirectly) until action is taken.

The complaint outlines four classes who may benefit from the suit:

  • The Trademark Owner Class: All individuals and entities in the United States who own, have owned, or otherwise have the right to enforce licensing rights to goods and services bearing trademarks or service marks registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and who engage or have engaged in commercial transactions in Second Life associated with such registered trademark or service marks.
  • The Trademark Infringement Class: All individuals and entities in the United States who (1) own, have owned, or otherwise have the right to enforce licensing rights to goods and services bearing trademarks or service marks registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, (2) engage or have engaged in commercial transactions in Second Life associated with such registered trademark or service marks, and (3) whose trademarks and/or service marks were infringed in Second Life.
  • The Copyright Owner Class: All individuals and entities in the United States who own, have owned, or otherwise have the right to enforce licensing rights in connection with a copyright registered with the U.S. Register of Copyrights and who engage or have engaged in commercial transactions in Second Life associated with such copyrighted works.
  • The Copyright Infringement Class: All individuals and entities in the United States who (1) own, have owned, or otherwise have the right to enforce licensing rights in connection with a copyright registered with the U.S. Register of Copyrights (2) engage or have engaged in commercial transactions in Second Life associated with such copyrighted works, and (3) whose copyrights were infringed in Second Life.

(Obviously, participation in the suit appears to be limited to entities within the United States of America. The 430KB complaint document is available in PDF format.)

Overall, the plaintiffs assert that Linden Lab has not done all that is reasonable and expeditious to deal with infringement, and that it has profited from and continues to profit from its failure to do so.

While so-called ‘Safe-Harbor’ (or, in the USA ‘Common Carrier’) protections might generally apply to (for example) Web-site operators, Linden Lab has chosen to abrogate those protections by taking affirmative (and some might say editorial) action on content in Second Life and on Xstreet SL.

Linden Lab declined to comment, but Alderman was willing to discuss the complaint with us, “The complaint eloquently expresses the frustration of the ‘whack-a-mole’ situation many of us are faced with every day. It is very difficult to convey the disappointment you get when you work for weeks to release something you have poured your heart and soul into, only to have it ripped and placed into grid-wide vending systems within moments by an anonymous and expendable account.”

“You cannot effectively address the level of infringement and theft that takes place within a platform that does 1.2 million dollars a day in transactions with an amended TOS and an expanded Abuse Reporting System. The problem is systemic. Our hope is to initiate fundamental and effectual change in the way the Lab addresses the issue of rampant content theft, copyright and trademark infringement in Second Life.”

Finally, Alderman asserts his support of the platform, “We do not need ‘Nannies’. We need effective support. If we didn’t believe in the future of Second Life, we would have been gone years ago. Maybe, some of our disillusioned brethren (sisteren?) will return if they feel that their content once again has value. We’re all in this together. It is still our world and our imagination.”

Even if the suit is only partially successful, the implications stand to significantly change the way virtual world developers and operators deal with rights, trademarks and copyrights in every collaborative virtual environment, as well as raise both social and legal expectations of the behavior and conduct of those operators. This case is one to watch.

Who’s your Daddy?

Mark Kirk

US Congressman Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) would like to be your parent. At least, he would like to act as though he was your parent.

Starting back in May 2008, Kirk has been singling out Second Life for special attention: he would like legislation to be introduced that prevents children from accessing Second Life– both the Teen Grid and the Main Grid (he makes no distinction), through public libraries and in schools.

On the surface, it sounds alright. We all want to protect the kiddies, right? Who is going to say an ill word against legislation that looks like it is designed to protect our children? But then you have to wonder: why should teenagers be excluded from a place designed especially for them? How will adults who want to access Second Life through libraries and schools do so?

There is no easy, cost-effective way to restrict access to content in public libraries and schools. Unless the Congressman wants to spend many more of the limited dollars already available to libraries and schools on solutions that would allow some people to access Second Life but not others, then Second Life would effectively not be available to anyone at these venues.

Legislation banning access for kids is not considered to be censorship – law that acts in place of parental control is often seen as advantageous.

Legislation that also functionally causes a service to be banned for adults is a bit stickier. It may not strictly constitute censorship, as the law would not state that adults are banned. However, functionally, censorship would be the end result.

Does it depend on the end result, or on the original intent, as to whether this is in fact a case of censorship?

For those who are not US citizens, here are the words of the First Amendment (1791):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

This is the fundamental piece of law protecting US citizens from censorship. Formally, censorship is prior restraint of communication based on content and enforced by law.  Censorship by the government is broadly unconstitutional.

What Kirk seems to be trying to achieve, intentionally or unintentionally, is an end-run around the constitution. There’s precedent for the State acting in loco parentis, but this sort of legislative restriction barring adults would never fly. Because it’s targeted at kids, and catches adults as collateral damage (something Kirk must have considered), it could squeak through to the detriment of everyone.

On another tack is this related idea, which to some extent makes the legislation pointless:

Thinking members of Congress, teachers and librarians have said that website filtering in the schools and libraries won’t protect kids because they aren’t finding predators in schools and libraries, but from their home computers that they surf alone in their rooms because they have nothing to do after school as many after school activities have been cut.

Perhaps a more useful way to spend Congress’ time and funds is:

  • To put more effort into providing alternative activities for children after school

and, maybe even more importantly

  • To put more effort into educating children about the use of services provided over the Internet.

An educated child is more likely to be self-monitoring. A restricted child is more likely to see excitement, danger and really wild things in those services that have been restricted.

So, what do you think? Is this legislation “in loco parentis”? Or just plain loco?


SLCN – trademark challenges

As this post by Benjamin Duranske alludes to, Linden lab have requested an extension of time to determine if they’ll oppose SLCN registering their name as a trademark.

The extension may lead to not much at all in that Linden Lab may decide not to challenge. We’ve discussed the trademark issue previously and the situation isn’t getting any less vexed. We contact SLCN for comment but understandably they’re not wanting to discuss the issue publicly.

What do you think? Are Linden Lab rightfully protecting their name or is it a move that’s only going to damage their standing in the virtual world community?

Patents and virtual world commerce

Terra Nova has a fascinating article on patents and virtual world economies.

Our recent interview with Dr Melissa de Zwart from Monash University shone some light on this very grey area – there’s still so much legal precedent still to be established.

Discussion paper on virtual property rights

Virtually Blind has an interesting article featuring a discussion paper on virtual property rights.

The paper is written by a Columbia Law School graduatem, Daniel Gould and you can read it here. It covers the challenges in defining virtual property and the part that stood out for me was:

bits in memory do not, by themselves, possess the qualities of real
world property mentioned above. Rather, it is the bits in the context of the MMOG
application interpreting them that simulates the features of physical property.

If you like the intellectual stimulation of bits, in our out of context, give this paper a read.

Virtual lips and law enforcement

Two interesting but totally unrelated pieces of information:

1. For the academically inclined, the Virtually Blind blog has an excellent piece on virtual law enforcement with a link to the paper written by a Dutch Assistant Professor at the University of Leiden, Bart Schermer. It’s a fascinating read best summed up in Schermer’s own words:

From this article we may conclude that in order to combat cheating and crime in virtual worlds, ‘artificial police agents’ may be employed. As of yet, these systems are not very advanced and can be used mainly to assist human beings in governing virtual worlds. However, as we move closer to the vision of strong artificial intelligence, more advanced software agents may be employed to combat crime in virtual worlds. When these intelligent systems arrive we must ensure that the legal basis for their use is codified within the law of criminal procedure.

To date media coverage of law enforcement has been about controlling the spread of real-life legal issues in the virtual sphere. There’s a much wider view that needs to be taken including virtual world-specific legal issues.

2. The ability for an avatar’s mouth / lips to sync with their speech has been something sought for years and there’s some light on the horizon on the Second Life front. Massively’s Tateru Nino has been trawling Second Life’s horrific development database cum bug-tracker to discover lip sync is on the way. I’d be doubtful it’ll deliver anything particularly realistic but it’s at least a start.

Linden Lab further clarify trademark policy

We mentoned last week that Linden Lab had launched a brand centre designed to clarify what’s acceptable use of trademarks like the Second Life logo. The response since has been forceful and arguably negative in the majority as the reality of needing to change domain names becomes apparent for some business people.

Today, Linden Lab have further clarified their policy and there’s certainly so sign of them resiling from their initial stance. One aspect that interests me revolves around what is appropriate use of the term ‘SL’:

3. Can I use SL with my product, domain or organization name?

Yes, under our special license to use “SL.” You can use “SL” with your own trademark. So, if you own the “Dell” trademark, you could call your presence in the Second Life world “Dell SL.”Or, you can use two common nouns with “SL.” For instance, SL Ballet is not ok (only one common noun) but SL Ballet Troup works. And SL China Portal is not ok (”China” is a proper noun), but SL Chinese Residents Association works. You need at least two common nouns so others don’t think you’re an “official” Second Life organization or website.”

Is it just me or is this taking things a little too far? Take our own original domain name: – if we were still running this site under that domain it’d need to be changed within 90 days. It seems farcical to me. Say there was a blog called Sleaze that covered virtual sex (there’s an idea!) – would this meet the guidelines? I’m not certain – Linden Lab have certainly provided clarification of some aspects but i don’t believe clarity is anywhere near achieved.

Australian Second Life resident Shai Khalifa makes a pertinent comment on the Linden blog announcement: “So transitioning a web domain name – does that mean LL will compensate those who have to fork out real money for registration of a new name – and paying web developers and graphic designers to re-do work?? This after-the-horse-has-bolted approach is going to have a detrimental effect on a number of active and useful sites I’m sure.”

The whole issue isn’t a show-stopper but it’s certainly going to cause some friction in part of the Second Life community. What are your thoughts – are Linden Lab cutting off their nose to spite their face?

Update: New World Notes are running a poll on the issue.

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