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Apple Patented by Microsoft 336

An anonymous reader writes "C|net is reporting that Microsoft received a patent on Tuesday for a new variety of apple tree. U.S. Plant Patent 14,757, granted to Robert Burchinal of East Wenatchee, Wash., and assigned to Microsoft, covers a new type of tree discovered in the early 1990s in the Wenatchee area, a major commercial apple-growing region. Dubbed the 'Burchinal Red Delicious,' the tree is notable for producing fruit that achieves a deep red color significantly earlier than other varieties. It is sold commercially as the 'Adams Apple.'" Apparently, the assignation of the patent to Microsoft was an error. Or so they would have us believe ...
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Apple Patented by Microsoft

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  • by Allen Zadr ( 767458 ) * <Allen.Zadr@nospAm.gmail.com> on Wednesday May 05, 2004 @10:49PM (#9070138) Journal
    I thought joke too, but it was merely a mistake.

    However, yes, genetics are patentable. This includes specific Hybriding.

  • by RotJ ( 771744 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2004 @10:50PM (#9070143) Journal
    I think if you develop a specific breed, you are given the sole rights to use it for commercial purposes.

    Read here [uspto.gov].

  • by DAldredge ( 2353 ) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Wednesday May 05, 2004 @10:51PM (#9070148) Journal
    Large transnational corporations like Monsanto, DuPont and others have been investing into biotechnology in such a way that patents have been taken out on indigenous plants which have been used for generations by the local people, without their knowledge or consent. The people then find that the only way to use their age-old knowledge is be to buy them back from the big corporations. In Brazil, which has some of the richest biodiversity in the world, large multinational corporations have already patented more than half the known plant species. (Brazil is estimated to have around 55,000 species of flora, amounting to some 22% of the world's total. India, for example, has about 46,000.)

    © Centre for Science and Environment
    Global Environmental Governance

    A patent gives a monopoly right to exploit an invention for 17-20 years. To be patentable an invention must be novel, inventive and have a commercial use. Controversially though, the US and European patent offices now grants patents on plant varieties, GM crops, genes and gene sequences from plants and crops. The current WTO patent agreement, TRIPs - Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights - has been very controversial in this respect for many developing countries who want to have it reviewed, but are being somewhat blocked by the wealthier nations from doing so.

    As reported by Environment News Service, "Knowledge is proprietary. It belongs to corporations and is not accessible to farmers," [Dr. Altieri] said. Altieri feels that biotechnology has emerged through the quest for profit, not to solve the problems of small farmers. "Scientists are defending biotechnology ... but at the same time there's a lot of money from corporations going into universities, influencing the researchers in those universities in the wrong direction," Altieri said.

    The cost to developing countries in "pirating" their knowledge has been considerable:

    "Vandana Shiva believes that the West has a clever structure in place. Using convenient patent laws as a system, the Trade Related Intellectual Property [TRIP] instrument as a stick and the World Trade Organisation [WTO] as the enforcing authority, the First World is seeking to 'rob' the Thirld World. She says in a rigorous article: "When the US introduced IPRs in the Uruguay Round as a new issue, it accused the Third World of 'piracy'. The estimates provided for royalties lost in agricultural chemicals are US$202 million and US$2,545 million for pharmaceuticals. However, as the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), in Canada has shown, if the contribution of Third World peasants and tribals is taken into account, the roles are dramatically reversed: the US owes US$302 million in royalties for agriculture and $5,097 million for pharmaceuticals to Third World countries."" -- Abduction of Turmeric provokes India's wrath, Good News India, January 2002

    Some examples

    In Texas, a company called RiceTec took out the patents on Basmati rice (which grows in the Indian and Pakistan regions) and have created a genetically modified Basmati rice, while selling it as normal Basmati -- and it was not against the law, either. In fact, four of the patents were withdrawn in June 2000, when the Indian government formally challenged the patent. However, it, and other incidents continue to raise controversy on patenting indigenous plants. Eventually though, 15 of the 20 patents were also thrown out by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) due to lack of uniqueness and novelty. However, towards the middle of August 2001, three patents were awarded to RiceTec -- to variants called Texmati, Jasmati and Kasmati, all cross breeds of Basmati and American long grain rice, while RiceTec was also given permission to claim that its brands are "superior to basmati" as reported by the Guardian, who also point out the uproar that has caused in Indian political circles. The article also points out how RiceTec CEO doesn't understand why there is such a fuss over this,
  • Read the article... (Score:5, Informative)

    by erick99 ( 743982 ) * <homerun@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 05, 2004 @10:52PM (#9070151)
    Read the article folks, it was a mistake.

    A Microsoft representative confirmed that the assigning of the patent to the company was a mistake..

    The article does go on to discuss the huge inventory of legitimate tech patents that Microsoft has and how they plan to license more of same.

    But the software giant has been a prolific patent generator in other areas. The company embarked on a campaign late last year to generate more revenue from its patent portfolio, offering to license widely used inventions such as its ClearType font technology and FAT storage format.

    I think that the writer thought "Microsoft patenting Apple" was a humorous intro to Microsofts rather deep pile of patents.

    Happy Trails!


  • by servoled ( 174239 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2004 @11:07PM (#9070228)
    This patent only covers a specific type of apple, not apples in general. Plus, I think plant patents opperate a little differently the utility patents, although I really don't know that much about plant patents.

    Plant patent information can be found here [uspto.gov] for anyone that is really interested in the subject.
  • But subscribers can read it early [fark.com].
  • by gumbi west ( 610122 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2004 @11:35PM (#9070369) Journal
    Good point! For future reference, he can look at wikipedia's definition of troll [wikipedia.org].
  • Assignation? (Score:2, Informative)

    by ziani ( 255157 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2004 @11:36PM (#9070377)
    Apparently, the assignation of the patent to Microsoft was an error.

    So there's a twist to the tryst?

    Perhaps you meant assignment.
  • Re:How the hell? (Score:5, Informative)

    by crem_d_genes ( 726860 ) * on Wednesday May 05, 2004 @11:37PM (#9070386)
    Like this... [original-r...icious.com]

    Almost all apple seeds will bear crab apples if planted, so a tree that bears edible fruit in the wild is truly unique. Orchard trees are grafts, usually they have a crab root (or another suitable apple tree) and the fruiting portion is whatever type is desired. Very few apple trees self pollinate so crab apples(which stay in bloom longer), or other varieties that are in bloom at the same time as the variety planted are needed nearby. All that's needed to finish the mix is a healthy hive of bees.
  • by petecarlson ( 457202 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2004 @11:45PM (#9070421) Homepage Journal
    It may be well outside of the scope of fair use, but he/she left the copyright notice intact "© Centre for Science and Environment
    Global Environmental Governance" That's not plagerism.
  • Re:Assignation? (Score:3, Informative)

    by omega_cubed ( 219519 ) <{wongwwy} {at} {member.ams.org}> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @12:05AM (#9070519) Journal
    No no no!

    Assignation here is Legalese for the transfer of rights or property, so the poster and the article are using the word in its correct meaning. cf. Oxford English Dictionary (funny, None of the online dictionaries that I know of actually show this meaning besides the OED, which requires an institutional license for access).
  • by Jozer99 ( 693146 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @12:20AM (#9070582)
    In fact, why have laws? We all know that if everything was legal, people wouldn't riot or steal. The legal system is a remnant of a time when society was used to opression. *inhales deeply from patented herb*
  • by zurab ( 188064 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @01:00AM (#9070751)
    I think if you develop a specific breed, you are given the sole rights to use it for commercial purposes.

    I don't know what you mean by "develop" but you don't even have to invent the plant to get a patent, you can simply discover it and patent it, as long as you know what it is. From the link you provided:

    A plant patent is granted by the Government to an inventor (or the inventor's hiers or assigns) who has invented or discovered and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state. (emphasis mine)

    Basically, if you discover a plant and can genetically describe it, you can patent it. It's a plant for crying out loud, can you patent your dog? Oh wait... is there anything you cannot patent?
  • by ward ( 7051 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @01:31AM (#9070890) Homepage
    RiceTec's 'basmati' is not GM rice, but just hybrid rice. It's available on most supermarket shelves, at least in the Houston area (home area for RiceTec). It's not Basmati, but they are happy to claim that it is.

    On a side note, the US has strict rules on the sale of GMO foods, but no labelling restrictions exist. Once it's approved by the FDA for human consumption, I can put it in any sort of packaging I want, sell it in the produce department, whatever. I can't claim that it's not GMO, but I can do something like produce a GM rice and call it basmati.

  • by DZign ( 200479 ) <averhe.gmail@com> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @02:39AM (#9071127) Homepage
    Funny maybe.. or maybe not ?
    MS (and some other corporations) just try to patent everything they can. So in the end their power and wealth just accumulates..
    maybe in 100 years we're living in a Blade Runner world where 1 or 2 companies control the world.
    And really control it or have rights to everything on it. I guess it'll really start going wrong is a company starts to operate it's own 'security crew' (read: army). Or when they just have power enough that the US President is nothing but a puppet for them.
    Guess revolution is the only way to stop all this - everyone ignoring all this patents and intellectial rights stuff..
  • by Jeff85 ( 710722 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @03:23AM (#9071293) Homepage
    For the uninformed, the bad guys in Spaceballs consume fresh canned air because they lack (non-stale) air on Planet Spaceball.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 06, 2004 @05:36AM (#9071688)
    Grafting is merely a means to control the rootstock for the apple tree for the rootstock's characteristics and using the scion (the piece grafted onto the rootstock) for the productive part of the plant. The rootstock can provide root-based disease and pest resistance, control aspects of the tree growth (drought resistance, overall tree height), etc., that a "pure" tree would not have.

    You could just as easily propagate your apple trees in the fall by making a bed of sawdust in your yard, cutting off some of the water suckers, and sticking the cut ends off of those branches into the ground, and planting them in the spring.

    This is how dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees are made: propagate the desired scion onto dwarf rootstock, so the resulting tree is only 8' tall, instead of 20'.

    We had an apple tree at our old house that produced about 4 distinctly different types of apples. The house and tree was old enough that it probably wasn't 4 different types grafted onto one tree...

  • by sepluv ( 641107 ) <blakesley@gmail . c om> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @07:32AM (#9072000)
    Actually this is totally correct. It is perfectly possible in the USA for me to find one of your hairs lying around and patent your genetic sequence so you have to pay me to reproduce. Muhehhawww.... No, I am not joking.

    It is common for existing wild plants (oriduced purely by natural selection) to be patented and then people who have them on their land or use them are sued (e.g.: indigenous peoples who have used them for medicine for thousands of years). It's called biopiracy (see the book of that name).
    RMS is currently campaigning against this.
  • by slackerboy ( 73121 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:38AM (#9072241)
    Actually, unique varieties of plants have been patentable in the U.S. for over seventy years. Acoording to this site [tamu.edu], the Plant Patent Act of 1930 says: "Whoever invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant, including cultivated sports, mutants, hybrids, and newly found seedlings, other than a tuber propagated plant or plant found in an uncultivated state, may obtain a patent therefor..."

    The act was but in place in large part because of the works of famous plant hybridizers like Luther Burbank [sciencedaily.com]. Burbank was an incredibly prolific producer of new plant varieties, but I had a very hard time making money due to the lack of patents.
  • by shplorb ( 24647 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:49AM (#9072754) Homepage Journal
    Here in Australia you don't patent plant varieties, you obtain Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) basically it's the same thing. It protects the horticulturalist who came up with the plant from others breeding the plant without permission and without paying royalties.

    I read a comment here that you shouldn't be able to do this to plants that were not interbred - plants that grew in nature. What would you say about what happened in our (my family runs a production nursery) place - my late grandfather discovered a mutant plant that had an advantage over what was currently being grown. It was the only one in the lot. Should we have not been able to get PBR on that?

    What happened with that plant occurs often in nature, however it rarely gets a chance to be propagated. The plants are all grafted, and it just so happened that this one was a sport (a mutated bud). In the wild, plants do not get grafted. Humans graft trees because it allows us to maintain consistency and grow a plant with certain characteristics as the choice of rootstock has a bearing on how the plant grows and what conditions it can grow in. If you take two plants and cross-pollinate them, the plants that grow from the resulting seeds will all be genetically different - just like humans having babies.

    But back to the PBR debate. As you may guess, it takes many years to develop or discover new varieties of plants - it is a very labour intensive and drawn-out process inherent with risks. Should a plant breeder not be afforded protection from unscrupulous operators moving in on his new variety and flooding the market to make a quick buck?

    For those that are interested, that mutant plant that my grandfather found was a Kaffir Lime. When we brought the Kaffir to Australia we could only obtain a very limited amount of budwood. We were under an agreement that we could not sell them for a few years whilst we ramped up production (using budwood from the previous years' lot for the next years lot.) because they were a tree that was in such demand that other nurserys would have bought the trees and propagated them, which would have denied the originator their royalties. The variety we grew was the best one to use for cooking - it had an extremely high concentration of volatile oils in the leaves - only problem was that it had big bastard thorns and the damn trees would scratch your arms to shreds (even through a jumper) when handling them. The mutant we found was the same, except it had no thorns! After keeping that tree under lock and key and giving it lots of TLC we took budwood and propagated it, repeating the process over a few years until we had enough to replace the volume of the original variety. The other main variety of Kaffir Lime sold in Australia is a fast-growing variety with large, light leaves and no thorns - only problem is that there's no flavour in the leaves. Go into an Asian grocery store and look at the Kaffir Lime leaves - they're all like the sort that we grow.
  • by hesiod ( 111176 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @01:46PM (#9075430)
    > Prepare to fast forward...FAST FORWARDING SIR!

    Missed a few lines...

    Prepare to fast forward!
    Preparing to fast forward.
  • by Mekkis ( 769156 ) <cyranoei@hotmail.com> on Friday May 07, 2004 @03:25PM (#9087945) Journal
    It ain't just Monsanto. Seminis Vegetable Seeds does R&D for Monsanto and other biotech firms. As much as we may really, really think it's wrong to patent life, the fact is money talks and Monsanto has plenty. Want to do something about it? Tough, if you live in the US: GE firms have a lobby almost as large as the pharmaceutical industry and any letter-writing campaign will be hopelessly adrift in the sea of cash surrounding this issue. The US administration and congress listen to campaign contributions, not to "luddite tree-huggers".
    As far as backbone, I have to give the EU credit. They stood up to blackmail by the US's bitching to the WTO about their ban on GM foods, and even though the WTO did levy sanctions, the EU gave both the US and the WTO the finger. Still, Seminis maintains GM R&D plants in Holland, France and Italy. Though they can't sell GM stuff there, there's nothing says they can't develop it.
    One other small note regarding Terminator Technology (C): Monsanto has said they're not using it, but they're testing it in Roundup Ready crops. Problem is these tests go unmonitored by the FDA, although GM watchdogs have shown that plants using TT genes can infect other plants downwind during pollen season, at worst rendering those plants' offspring sterile, or at least infecting them with copyrighted genetic sequences. Sounds like someone's trying to monopolize human food sources, or does that have a 'conspiracy theorist' ring to it? I guess we'll just have to take their word that they're not using TT genes...
    I can't say I'm surprised to see Micro$oft, with their army of rabid patent lawyers hop on the Genetic Engineering train. Who knows what's next?
    GOD BLESS AMERICA! Land of the Free Market and home of the Brave Investor.
    --Mekkis, self-admitted troll.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll