The farther he ranges from his core competence (science), the lousier his "novel" is.
Next is his most recent novel, published in 2006. It's a loose collection of barely connected mini-plots organized around a paranoid and completely ignorant misunderstanding of the law, with a political agenda for changing it. Crichton is a scientist (actually a medical doctor), not a lawyer, and his ignorance shows. Even the Amazon reviews were largely negative.
Crichton's other novels are far more readable. If you want to understand Next, don't bother reading the 95-chapter story, just skip to the "Author's Note" at the end and read that.
Here follows a summary of the five points in his Note, and why they
The present invention relates generally to the field of human genetics. Specifically, the present invention relates to methods and materials used to isolate and detect a human breast and ovarian cancer predisposing gene (BRCA1), some mutant alleles of which cause susceptibility to cancer, in particular breast and ovarian cancer...There you have it. They have invented a method for isolating and detecting a particular gene that predisposes human breast cancer, not the gene itself, but a method for identifying if it's there. They also invented a protein replacement therapy. This is not the gene itself being patented, but certain diagnostic methods and certain therapies. Nobody owns the gene. Read it yourself. The important part is the claims. Any patent lawyer will tell you that. The claims here do not tell you what this gene is -- which would be a patent on the gene itself -- but only one way to know if it's there, and some of things you can do to prevent cancer if it is. Anybody can invent another (different) way to determine if the same gene is there, or another way to manufacture and administer the protein therapy, and this patent cannot stop them.
The invention also relates to the therapy of human cancers which have a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, including gene therapy, protein replacement therapy and protein mimetics...
Now, I am not a geneticist, so I can't tell you how many different ways
there are to discover if a particular gene is present. I suspect there
is today only one workable method, and this patent uses it. It might even
be overly broad and obvious in its specified methods, and thereby fail
the patent law's "unobvious" test. The Patent Office is understaffed (and
probably inadequately trained) for determining obviousness -- they certainly
fail in the software patents arena -- and thus grant patents that they
ought not, but that is strictly on the basis of existing law. And the incompetence
of government employees. We don't need a change in the law, we just need
better-funded Patent Office examiners.
Crichton mentions the case of Dr.Catalona, who left his university but was not allowed to take tissue samples with him. That is perfectly right and proper; the university paid for the collection, and they paid for the releases. They even paid his salary, which made him an agent of the university, and not free to do as he pleases with their property. But he is perfectly free to collect his own samples after leaving -- even from the same people, provided he obtains new releases from each of them giving him that right. However they must come to him individually, because the list of those people is still the property of the university. That is fair and reasonable, and workable under present law.
When I go in for a medical procedure, I carefully read the long consent
form they give me to sign. If I don't like what's on it, I change it, and
demand a copy. They always give me a copy. Most people don't bother to
read what they are signing. Most clerks don't even bother to notice that
I made changes. One of those clinics later came after me for something
I didn't agree to. They wanted more money for a procedure I didn't ask
for nor authorize. They threatened to send it up for collection. I encouraged
them to consider the consequences. The collection agency took one look
at the altered release and said "No way." And that was the end of it. The
existing law is not bad.
The problem is that some of us recognize that "human beings" start nine
months before most of them take their first breath, and bans against vivisection
of human beings for research (or any other) purposes should apply to those
unborn humans just as much as the ones that are 60 years old and writing
best-seller novels. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the bottom line that
Crichton complains about. He only wants bans against other people killing
himself, but not against himself (or medical researchers like him) killing
helpless infants. That kind of selfishness is itself evil.
Let's consider an analogy that Crichton himself would probably understand:
He went to Harvard and Harvard Medical School, which receives substantial
government funding (including, by their own admission, the National Institutes
of Health, a Federal agency) mostly in the form of research grants which
subsidize the teaching faculty there. Therefore, by his reasoning, he should
not be allowed to profit from the results of that government funding, and
all his books based on that medical education should be in the public domain.
Somehow I don't think he would agree. He makes millions of dollars on the
results of that government funding, and we all benefit from getting to
read those books. For a price, of course. Because his books make a lot
of money for him, Crichton left medicine to write more of them. No profit
means no books. Bayh-Dole gives that same benefit to smart people (like
Crichton) who do more for the public good than just write interesting novels.
They invent new medicines to benefit sick people. So what if the medicines
cost extra during those first 20 years. No profit means no medicines. Crichton
left medicine to become a writer 40 years ago because there was no Bayh-Dole,
but there was a copyright law. He could have done well in either arena,
but he saw where the money was. After 20 years the new medicines become
very cheap generic drugs. Crichton's copyrights last for 75 years after
he dies. I think he's being rather selfish about this, don't you?
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