Patent Politics Logic of Inquiry

Beginning in the 1970s and continuing through today, there is growing citizen discontent about patents of living things. This was exemplified in the Diamond v. Chakrabarty case, which allowed the patenting of a microorganism, and the AMP v. Myriad case, which determined that human genes are unpatentable. Shobita Parthasarathy’s “Patent Politics” uses both interpretive and comparative approaches to look at the ways in which the politics of different areas shape patent system politics.

Section 1. Content Analysis

In the beginning of the book, Parthasarathy posits a number of questions that guide the book (Parthasarathy, loc. 151)[1]. Focusing on biotechnology and the patenting of life forms, these questions look at how challenges to the patent systems impact patent systems, what controversies around patents can tell us about the politics of science and technology and how they can help develop better strategies for governing information, and the reasons why the patent systems United States and Europe have different attitudes about the inclusion of ethics in the patenting of life forms.

Some claims that Parthasarathy explain answers to these questions. She says that the different attitudes the United States and Europe have about the role government should have in influencing innovation and achieving public interest influence their understanding of which patents (Parthasarathy, loc. 174) should be approved – these attitudes are called patent system logics (Parthasarathy, loc. 315). The United States equates patents and inventions with the public interest (Parthasarathy, loc. 4171), while Europe sees patents as having broad implications that the government is responsible for. Parthasarathy argues that patents are political; she argues that as patents explicity define what can be an invention, they also shape social understanding of what can’t be patented, such as discovery and nature. In the conclusion, she uses uses patents on BRCA genes as an example of how different governments handled patents differently. In the United States, patent system “rejected the idea that patents had” broad implications (Parthasarathy, loc. 4153). However, in Europe, decision makers “disagreed about where and how [broad implications] should be addressed” (Parthasarathy, loc. 4157).

The explanandum can be found in the text: “My goal in this book is to reveal how [patent logics] shape a parent system’s structure, its practices, and its political environment. Ultimately, [these logics] influence patent-system decisions and even our understandings of patents” (Parthasarathy, loc. 321). The explanans is laid out in four points based on the author’s findings:

  1. “By revealing the moral and political orders embedded in our patent systems, they give us the opportunity to think critically about the values and assumptions that lie beneath them” (Parthasarathy, loc. 4195).
  2. Looking at reasons for distinctions in patent logics should make us “rethink our approaches to relevant knowledge and expertise in science and technology policymaking” (Parthasarathy, loc. 4201).
  3. Law is not separate from politics; the political context of laws are what gives them meaning (Parthasarathy, loc. 4205).
  4. “These conclusions should encourage us to reconsider our governance of the moral and socioeconomic implications of science and technology” (Parthasarathy, loc. 4214).

Section 2. Research Design

Parthasarathy provides a lovely methodological note in Appendix 2, which explains her research design in detail. Parthasarathy uses inductive reasoning, specifically using both interpretive and comparative analysis. She uses multiple types of data, including literature review, interviews, and participant observation (Parthasarathy, loc. 4414). She describes where she got her information for her literature review, including: news sources found using LexisNexis and through individual newspaper archives; scholarly articles found using keywords that the author identifies; and government websites. The author interviewed more than a hundred people on different sides of controversies and in governments, and her participant observation involved observing protests, hearings, and various related events.

Parthasarathy does not claim any generality, but does say that insights gleaned from this comparative analysis can give “insights into the broader politics of intellectual property and science and technology policy” (Parthasarathy, loc. 4418). This is also how she moves from the specifics of her case to the general world of information governance. The author handles contradictory evidence through triangulation of data; she cross-checked data across different sources and types of data to figure out what the truth was. This work does have auditability, as she details every step of her process from literature review to how she found interviewees to her analysis. She says that her process is iterative (Parthasarathy, loc. 4551); when her findings didn’t match up with her hypothesis, she revised and retested her hypothesis.

[1] Because I have the Kindle version of this book, I will be using location numbers instead of page numbers.