Intellectual Property

DNA Dough-Re-Mi

Creative copyrighting

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A pretty girl may be like a melody, but the music of her DNA could have biotech companies whistling all the way to the bank. An executive at Maxygen, a California biotech firm, has suggested that if DNA sequences were converted to digital music they could be copyrighted as works of art.

Currently, some DNA sequences can at best be patented by companies who have spent heavily to determine their order, while other such sequences are not eligible for protection at all. "Patents are important," Willem Stemmer, the executive who came up with the idea, told The New York Times. "But copyright could be equally or more important."

It could certainly be important for the companies' bottom lines. The cost of converting DNA sequences to music is negligible; programs to do the job, such as ProteinMusic, already exist. Meanwhile, copyrights, if granted, would last up to 100 years under current law, whereas a mere patent expires after 17 years.

Furthermore, it can be difficult to obtain a patent if no new invention is involved. Given that biotech companies invest large sums in DNA research in the hope of reaping even greater returns through the development of new drugs, 100 years of copyright can mean a lot of profit.

Copyright-protected DNA "music" would allow biotech companies to sell revealed gene sequences to other companies in the form of digital MP3-like files, along with a program that would translate the ditty back into DNA coding. As Stemmer explained to London's Independent, "This back-translated DNA sequence itself would not be covered by copyright. However, intellectual property protection may exist because the external user can access a DNA sequence only by copying of a copyright-protected music file." And if you want to know what happens when you download music files without permission from the copyright holder, ask Napster.

It's not clear what DNA music can be made to sound like, whether one can dance to it or whether one should listen to it contemplatively. Even if it's the latter, maybe it can be given a good club mix and set to the beat of, say, pulsars.

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