Friday, May 31, 2013

Stanford Deextinction Conference Live (Afternoon Session)

What follows is a skeleton outline of the afternoon presentations at the May 31, 2013, conference on deextinction at Stanford Law School.
Stanley Temple warned of the possibility that deextinction could compete with, and even deplete, conservation efforts centered on endangered species.  He also suggested that deextinction could supply biotechnologies useful to conserving endangered species, and that revived recently-extinct organisms could help restore ecological community integrity.
Kate Jones presented various criteria, such as phylogenetic uniqueness, that could be used to select candidates for revival.  She listed her priorities for revival:  the kakapo, Chinese giant salamander, and Javan rhinoceros.
Jamie Rappaport Clark announced that she "is not sure deextinction is an ESA thing at all." She nominated two species for revival: the sage grouse and Hawai'an 'i'iwi. She expressed worries that deextinction might weaken the Endangered Species Act, and suggested a "firewall" be erected between the two. She noted that she "has never seen [a U.S. government] less attuned to conservation issues." 
Hilary Bok reasoned that reviving extinct species would not right the wrong of driving them extinct in the first place. 
Jay Odenbaugh questioned whether or not the animal welfare interests implicated by a small number of revival experiments might be outweighed by the interests of a restored species. 
Ronald Sandler argued that deextinction may not reestablish ecological, evolutionary, cultural, or instrumental relationships.  He further suggested that species might be revived without reviving their value.
Although this conference raised more questions than were answered, even this result reflected the great value of gathering together so many deextinction experts.  Deextinction appears to be marching forward with quickened step.  Society would do well to prepare.

Stewart Brand On Deextinction Live

Stewart Brand gave the keynote address at the May 31, 2013, Stanford Law School conference De-Extinction: Ethics, Law & Politics.  Host Hank Greely introduced him as "the charismatic megafauna of
de-extinction." Here are some highlights of what Brand said:
On the successful approach to deextinction: "This is an evidence-based, time-driven approach to looking at this things."
On anticipated public reaction to deextinction: "You know that every birdwatcher with a lifelist will want to see a passenger pigeon."
On extinction causes: "[Many] of the animals that went extinct were hunted to death."
On nature: "The cane toad story [is] so widespread, that most people believe that nature is fragile."
On celebrating deextinction successes: "When things turn out not to be a problem, everyone knows."
On strategy for making deextinction a success: "Move the public discourse with the reality through time."
On conservation biology: "Conservation biologists keep shocking me with the amount of gardening conservation biology requires."
On an objective of deextinction: "We're trying to stop unmaking the world."
As Greely suggested, Brand is a very inspiring figure.

Stanford Deextinction Conference Live (Morning Session)

What follows is a skeleton outline of the morning presentations at the May 31, 2013, conference on deextinction at Stanford Law School.
Hank Greely introduced the topic and speakers, charging them with outlining future directions for deextinction policy and law. 
Beth Shapiro discussed the scientific challenges of reviving extinct organisms. 
Andrew Torrance outlined (1) the international law of deextinction and (2) the legal regulation of genetically-modified organisms, and suggested how they do (and will) apply to deextinction efforts. 
Alex Comacho suggested that deextinction fits rather awkwardly into the current U.S. Endangered Species Act. 
Chuck Bonham related the challenges facing state regulators of biodiversity with those that might arise through deextinction. 
Matthew Liebman warned that various aspects of creating and releasing deextinct animals raised issues of animal welfare, both for donor and revived organisms. 
Daniel Farber provided an outline of how state tort law could affect (and be affected by) deextinct organisms. 
Jake Sherkow discussed connections between intellectual property and deextinction.
More summaries of presentations from the afternoon session will follow.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Stanford De-Extinction Conference - Final Program

De-Extinction: Ethics, Law & Politics

May 31, 2013 8:00am - 5:00pm
Stanford Law School, Room 290

What if extinction is not forever? Recent work by biologists, conservationists, and other pioneers has made it increasingly likely that some once extinct species could, in the near future, be "revived." While much of the recent popular attention has focused on the mechanics of bring back once extinct species, ethical, legal, and social concerns about the practice have come to the fore. Come join the Center for Law and the Biosciences on May 31, 2013, as we host scientists, lawyers, and ethicists from across the world to discuss the implications about this fascinating development in humanity's ability to control life.

This event is co-sponsored by the U.C. Irvine Center for Land, Environment, and Natural Resources.

Confirmed Speakers Include:

Hilary Bok, Johns Hopkins

Chuck Bonham, California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Stewart Brand, The Long Now Foundation

Alex Camacho, University of California at Irvine Law School

Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife

Daniel Farber, University of California, Berkeley

Hank Greely, Stanford Law School

Kate Jones, University College London

Matthew Liebman, Animal Legal Defense Fund

Jay Odenbaugh, Lewis and Clark College

Ronald Sandler, Northeastern University

Beth Shapiro, University of California at Santa Cruz

Jake Sherkow, Stanford Law School

Stanley Temple, University of Wisconson - Madison

Andrew Torrance, University of Kansas Law School


8:30 AM - Welcome and Introduction (Hank Greely)

8:45 AM - Science (Beth Shapiro)

9:30 AM - Environmental Law and Related Issues
International plus US GMO (Andrew Torrance)
US federal (Alex Camacho)
State fish and wildlife (Chuck Bonham)

10:45 AM - Break

11:00 AM - Other Legal Issues
Animal Welfare (Matthew Liebman)
Liability Issues (Dan Farber)
Property issues (Jake Sherkow)

12:15 PM - Lunch (Stewart Brand)

1:30 PM - De-Extinction and Conservation Biology
Conservation Uses of De-Extinction (Stanley A. Temple)
Conservation Biology and Priorities (Kate Jones)
Politics of De-Extinction (Jamie Rappaport Clark)

2:45 PM - Break

3:00 PM - Justice, Hubris, and Moral Issues
Justice (Hilary Bok)
Hubris and Naturalness (Jay Odenbaugh)
Species Ethics (Ronald Sandler)

4:15 PM - Plenary Session

5:30 PM - Closing

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Body Blow To Biotechnology?

Ahead of the keenly-anticipated United States Supreme Court decision in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics,  The Financial Times ran an article on May 28, 2013, entitled "Supreme Court:  US genes patent decision may depend on strands in Myriad argument."  The article includes the following passage:
Before [the Myriad case] was heard [by the United States Supreme Court], one patent expert predicted the results could be disastrous. 
"Synthetic DNA sequences, designed by humans, may be excluded from this prohibition but the invalidation of patents claiming human genes will wipe out vast amounts of private investment, and be a body blow to the biotechnology industry," says Andrew Torrance, professor at the University of Kansas law school.
The decision in Myriad should arrive within days.  The biotechnology industry awaits it with bated breath.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Peak Performance

Here is the team that won the 2013 Gruter Institute "Skit Night" competition.

Our secret was an unbeatable combination of innovation, fun, silliness, and camaraderie.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Nothing Is Greater Than Gruter

The Gruter Institute has long led thought on integrating the fields of biology, economics, growth, and innovation.  From May 19 to 24, 2013, the Institute is hosting a conference entitled "Innovation and Growth:  Biological, Economic, Institutional and Technological."  The setting - sublime Squaw Valley, California, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics - and the participants - leading biologists, economists, behaviorial scientists, and scholars of innovation and growth - ensures that this annual conclave routinely catalyzes intellectual trends.  Here is the official description of this year's program:
Theme:  The theme for this year's conference will be Innovation and Growth:  Biological, Economic, Institutional and Technological. Our focus will be on using the many tools of behavioral science to help better understand innovation and growth, in biological systems, economic systems, and legal systems, as well as in technology. By bringing together a highly inter-disciplinary group of scholars and practitioners to explore the conditions and behaviors leading to innovation and growth in each of these systems, we believe we can best make progress at both the theoretical and applied level on the challenges we face in law, economics and institutional design.
As a Gruter Fellow, I have had the privilege of attending Gruter conferences for several years.  This year, my presentations are entitled "What is Innovation?," "Innovation Wetlands," and "The Role of Intellectual Property in Innovation and Implementation."

In the world of ideas, nothing is greater than Gruter. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

New Front In The Clone Wars

Oregon Health & Science University Biologist Masahito Tachibana and 22 of his colleagues made published an article in Cell on May 15, 2013, that may challenge and disrupt much of the ethical debate over embyronic stems cells.  As they note in their article, entitled "Human Embryonic Stem Cells Derived by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer,"
We demonstrate here for the first time the successful reprogramming of human somatic cells into ESCs [embryonic stem cells] following SCNT [somatic cell nuclear transfer].
In essence, Tachibana et al. successfully used cloning techniques to generate pluripotent (that is, capable of developing into many types of cell) ESCs from adult human fibroblasts (in this case, collagen-producing skin cells).  This method of reprogramming adult human cells into pluripotent ESCs may not only facilitate regrowth of damaged adult tissues, but even ease the cloning of human beings.

Human ESCs are sure to remain controversial, but this biological breakthrough may now cause a tectonic shift the ethical locus of that controversy.  The Clone Wars rage on.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mauna Loa High

The measured concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a modern record high on May 9, 2013. As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ("NOAA") announced on May 10, 2013,
On May 9, the daily mean concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Mauna Loa, Hawaii, surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since measurements began in 1958. Independent measurements made by both NOAA and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have been approaching this level during the past week. It marks an important milestone because Mauna Loa, as the oldest continuous carbon dioxide (CO2) measurement station in the world, is the primary global benchmark site for monitoring the increase of this potent heat-trapping gas.
The agency put the current atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in historical context:
Before the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, global average CO2 was about 280 ppm. During the last 800,000 years, CO2 fluctuated between about 180 ppm during ice ages and 280 ppm during interglacial warm periods. Today’s rate of increase is more than 100 times faster than the increase that occurred when the last ice age ended.
The announcement by NOAA ended with a sobering warning:
Once emitted, CO2 added to the atmosphere and oceans remains for thousands of years. Thus, climate changes forced by CO2 depend primarily on cumulative emissions, making it progressively more and more difficult to avoid further substantial climate change.
Some like it hot, so they should be happy.  However, those who prefer a more temperate earth may not feel like celebrating this new record.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Bowman Bowed By Monsanto

The United States Supreme Court has given farmer Vernon Bowman good reason to become triskaidekaphobic.  For, on May 13, 2013, the Court sided decisively with agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto Company, holding that Bowman had violated Monsanto's patents claiming Roundup Ready soybeans.  As the Court fashioned them, here are the facts of the case:
Respondent Monsanto invented and patented Roundup Ready soybean seeds, which contain a genetic alteration that allows them to survive exposure to the herbicide glyphosate. It sells the seeds subject to a licensing agreement that permits farmers to plant the purchased seed in one, and only one, growing season. Growers may consume or sell the resulting crops, but may not save any of the harvested soybeans for replanting. Petitioner Bowman purchased Roundup Ready soybean seed for his first crop of each growing season from a company associated with Monsanto and followed the terms of the licensing agreement. But to reduce costs for his riskier late-season planting, Bowman purchased soybeans intended for consumption from a grain elevator; planted them; treated the plants with glyphosate, killing all plants without the Roundup Ready trait; harvested the resulting soybeans that contained that trait; and saved some of these harvested seeds to use in his late-season planting the next season. After discovering this practice, Monsanto sued Bowman for patent infringement. Bowman raised the defense of patent exhaustion, which gives  the purchaser of a patented article, or any subsequent owner, the right to use or resell that article.
Monsanto prevailed both in federal District Court and in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  Now, the Supreme Court has affirmed the decisions of the courts below, holding that
Patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission.
Owners of patents claiming self-reproducing inventions ("SRIs"), such as genetically-engineered seeds, cells, and organisms, may now breath a sigh of relief.  To celebrate its famous victory, Monsanto published a press release entitled
"Supreme Court Ruling Supports Breakthrough 21st Century Technologies, Ensures That Patent Law Will Protect Continued Advancement In Agriculture Products".
A win for Bowman would have meant carnage for the value of agrobiotechnology patent portfolios.  Instead, the Court has reaffirmed the value of intellectual property rights in SRIs, potentially allowing patent rights coterminous with the continued existence of any patented biological lineage.  Furthermore, unlike its recent decision in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, where it strengthened the legal defense of exhaustion in the copyright context, in Bowman v. Monsanto the Court declined to apply exhaustion principles in the SRI patent context.  Perhaps too much exhaustion doctrine in a single term has exhausted the Court. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


In a blog post published on April 29, 2013, Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health ("NIMH"), challenged one of the cornerstones of modern psychiatric practice:  the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ("DSM").  The new, fifth edition, of the DSM ("DSM-5") will be released at the May 18-22, 2013, Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco, California.  According to Dr. Insel, the practices reflected in the DSM-5 compare poorly to those in other medical specialties:
The goal of this new manual, as with all previous editions, is to provide a common language for describing psychopathology. While DSM has been described as a “Bible” for the field, it is, at best, a dictionary, creating a set of labels and defining each. The strength of each of the editions of DSM has been “reliability” – each edition has ensured that clinicians use the same terms in the same ways. The weakness is its lack of validity. Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure. In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever. Indeed, symptom-based diagnosis, once common in other areas of medicine, has been largely replaced in the past half century as we have understood that symptoms alone rarely indicate the best choice of treatment.
According to Dr. Insel, "Patients with mental disorders deserve better."  They may soon get it.  Dr. Insel describes a new initiative aimed at improving the scientific rigor of psychiatry:
NIMH has launched the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project to transform diagnosis by incorporating genetics, imaging, cognitive science, and other levels of information to lay the foundation for a new classification system.
Although none of these approaches promise immediate cures, together they may help psychiatry to get up off the couch.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Stanford De-Extinction Details

De-Extinction: Ethics, Law & Politics

Friday, May 31, 2013

Room 290
Stanford Law School

What if extinction is not forever? Recent work by biologists, conservationists, geneticists, bioengineers, and other pioneers has made it increasingly likely that some once extinct species– like the pictured thylacine, or "Tasmanian tiger,"  could, in the near future, be "revived." While  popular attention has focused on the mechanics of bring back once extinct species, ethical, legal, and even, in a broad sense, political issues will become pressing as de-extinction moves closer to reality.  Join the Center for Law and the Biosciences on May 31, 2013, as we host scientists, lawyers, philosophers, ethicists, and others from across the world to discuss the implications about this fascinating development in humanity's ability to control life.


This event is free and open to the public but registration is required. Please click here to register.


Confirmed speakers include:

Hilary Bok, Johns Hopkins
Stewart Brand, The Long Now Foundation
Jamie Clark, Defenders of Wildlife
Hank Greely, Stanford Law School
Matthew Liebman, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Jay Odenbaugh, Lewis and Clark College
Ronald Sandler, Northeastern University
Jake Sherkow, Stanford Law School

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The Center for Law and the Biosciences, directed by Professor Hank Greely, examines biotech discoveries in the context of the law, weighing their impact on society and the law's role in shaping that impact. The Center is part of the Stanford Program in Law, Science & Technology. Situated in the locus of the world's biotechnology industry, within a preeminent research university, the Center convenes a forum of academicians, lawyers, scientists, policy makers, and law students.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

The EC's FRANDLY Statement

On May 6, 2013, the European Commission ("EC") sent a Statement of Objections (MEMO/13/403) to Motorola Mobility L.L.C., complaining that the Google unit had impermissibly sought injunctive relief against alleged infringement of some of its mobile communications patents.  Google purchased Motorola Mobility in 2012, in large part to acquire the latter's massive portfolio of roughly 25,000 patents and patent applications, some of which are considered essential to mobile communication technical standards.  Increasingly, antitrust authorities around the world are policing the use of such standards-essential patents, especially when they claim devices, methods, or systems adopted by technical standards-setting organizations or negotiations in which the owners of such patents participated.  In general, the law prefers that standards-essential patents be made available by their owners for licensing to others on terms that are (fair) reasonable and non-discriminatory (i.e., "(F)RAND").

In its Statement, the EC explained its rationale for taking action as follows:
In industries such as the IT sector, industry standards are key to ensuring interoperability and fostering innovation. They bring benefits to consumers and businesses. However, once a technology has been chosen and the standard has been set, it is important that the standard is accessible to all interested parties. In order to ensure such access and to prevent patent hold-up, standard-setting organisations generally require that members commit ex ante to license their standard essential patents (SEPs) on Fair Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms. 
Against this backdrop, the Commission is concerned that the use of injunctions can be anti-competitive. In this case, the Commission considers at this stage that recourse by Motorola Mobility to injunctions on the basis of FRAND-encumbered SEPs distorted the negotiation process for a FRAND licence with Apple – a willing licensee. Hold-ups of this kind can ultimately lead to less consumer choice with regard to interoperable products and less innovation.
The EC answered its own question, "Is the Commission not intervening in a simple patent dispute between private parties?," in the negative:
No.  The Commission takes no position on the validity or infringement of the patents in question which is to be determined by national courts. The Commission's intervention aims to protect the public interest that commitments given during a standard-setting process are respected so that consumers and businesses can enjoy the benefits of standardisation.
Furthermore, the EC reaffirmed its support for patent rights outside the context of standards-essential patents:
Intellectual property rights are one of the cornerstones of the single market and therefore have a key role in promoting innovation. This case is about the potential misuse of certain SEPs in the specific standardisation context. The Commission will continue to attach high importance to effective patent protection and an efficient patent system.
Motorola Mobility and its competitor Apple Inc. may now respond to the EC's concerns in writing.  They may even request an oral hearing to explain their positions.  Both options present pitfalls to both parties, as owners of numerous important patents that are, or may in the future become, part of technical standards relied upon by competitors in their industry.  What is certain is that (F)RAND principles are in the clear ascendancy in the world of patents, particularly in the European Union.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Regina v. Levkovic

The Supreme Court of Canada decided the sad case of Regina v. Levkovic on May 3, 2013. In so doing, the Court interpreted section 243 of the Canadian Criminal Code (i.e., R.S.C. 1985, c. C‑46, s. 243). Section 243 states that
Every one who in any manner disposes of the dead body of a child, with intent to conceal the fact that its mother has been delivered of it, whether the child died before, during or after birth, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
The Court explained the facts of this tragic case as follows:
[20] While cleaning a recently vacated apartment, a building superintendent discovered on the balcony a bag containing the remains of a human baby. Post-mortem examination revealed that the remains were of a female delivered “at or near full term”: R.F., at para. 8. Due to the decomposition of the remains, the cause of death could not be determined and it was unknown whether there had been a live birth.

[21] Following media reports of the superintendent’s discovery, Ivana Levkovic, the appellant in this Court, attended at a police station and gave a statement to the police. She gave birth to the baby, she explained, after falling while alone in the apartment. She then placed the baby in a bag, deposited the bag on the balcony, and left the apartment. Nothing in her statement to the police suggests that the baby was alive at birth. 
[22] Ms. Levkovic was charged with concealing the body of a child under s. 243 of the Criminal Code. She pleaded not guilty and, before any evidence was called, challenged the constitutionality of s. 243 on the ground that it is impermissibly vague in its application to a child that died before birth. To this extent, she submitted, s. 243 violates s. 7 of the [Canadian] Charter [of Rights and Freedoms].
An Ontario trial court acquitted defendant Levkovic.  An Ontario Court of Appeal panel of judges set aside this acquittal, and ordered a new trial for Levkovic.  The Supreme Court of Canada heard the appeal, dismissed it, siding with the Ontario Court of Appeal, and affirmed the Ontario Court of Appeal's order for a new trial.

In arriving at its decision, the Supreme Court of Canada construed the phrase "before...birth" in section 243, and found it not to be impermissibly vague. As the Supreme Court concluded,
I have concluded that s. 243 does not violate s. 7 of the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms]. Section 243 gives women ― and men ― fair notice that they risk prosecution and conviction if they dispose of the remains of a child born at or near full term with intent to conceal the fact that its mother had been delivered of it. And s. 243 limits with sufficient clarity the discretion of those charged with its enforcement.
Defendant Levkovic will now stand trial for violating section 243.  As it proceeds, this somber prosecution is likely to shed additional light on the legal status of the human fetus in Canada.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Pico Pic

A new world record has been set for tiniest movie.  Using a scanning tunneling microscope to move individual carbon monoxide molecules, IBM has produced a film entitled "A Boy And His Atom."  Watch it here.  Individual carbon monoxide molecules serve as pixels, and can only be observed when magnified 100 million times.  Follow the bouncing ball(ecules).