[Excerpt] “Recent advances in biotechnology are expected by many to improve crop yield, reduce reliance on agricultural inputs like pesticides and herbicides, alleviate world hunger, improve the safety and effectiveness of pharmaceuticals, assist in the discovery of genes that trigger diseases like cancer, and make more efficient our legal institutions through DNA testing. Clearly, innovations in biotechnology are a powerful force for social change, and they pose unique challenges and opportunities for legal scholars and institutions. This section of the Pierce Law Review focuses on the interface between law and technology by examining how innovations in biotechnology accelerate debates about social justice (on a global scale), the role of science, and the patenting of intellectual property.
Since biotechnology, and the actors involved in the debates over intellectual property rights, are involved in a form of “high drama” that plays itself out in the social world, it is necessary to understand that technology does not exist in a vacuum. All technologies generate social change and affect, in varying degrees individuals, groups, institutions, etc. For example, the introduction of the pen changed how information is recorded. A pen is portable, relatively inexpensive and creates semi-permanent markings. The pen, however, represented a shift away from orality, created a note-taking culture and lessened our reliance on short-term memory. The pen also helped consolidate the power of bureaucracies where a reliance on efficiency and order was paramount. Legal documents are generally signed in ink. The pen plays a prominent role in our society and can be found in almost all institutions, including those where information/communication technology dominate. If these transformations can occur when a relatively simple technology is introduced, what can be said about the introduction of innovations arising from the science of biotechnology?
Michael D. Mehta, Biotechnology and the Law: A Consideration of Intellectual Property Rights and Related Social Issues, 2 Pierce L. Rev. 57 (2004), available at http://scholars.unh.edu/unh_lr/vol2/iss1/6