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Intellectual property is often described as an international practice — technology and ideas don’t respect borders. But IP — like politics — is local, too. What you believe is often a reflection of where you sit. Until the 1890s, the United States did not recognize the copyright of British authors like Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The United States only started to protect the copyrights of foreign artists once this country began to be an exporter of artistic talent. The debate over copyright protection on the Internet turns largely on locale. Hollywood, as the creator of copyrights, is on one side; Silicon Valley, as the carrier of copyrighted works, is on the other. Today, there is a similar debate over gene patents. Most biotechnology companies and lawyers accept patents as a given. Without patents, there would not be funding. And without funding, there would not be companies and clients. This leaves the academic and research community to argue the other side — a more skeptical view of the value of mini-monopolies over the stuff of life. Barbara Caulfield, the general counsel of Affymetrix Inc., seems to break the mold. She’s the chief legal officer of a large biotechnology company who opposes gene patents. But unlike other biotechnology companies, whose business is mining the human genome, Affymetrix makes the tools that let others find the gold. If the gold mine is on private property, the prospectors don’t need to buy picks. Caulfield’s argument turns on where she sits. (Her company, for example, actively patents its genetic tools.) Caulfield is an accomplished lawyer — she was a partner at San Francisco’s Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and a federal judge — whose position is well considered. For balance, we asked Lee Bendekgey, the general counsel of Incyte Genomics Inc., and Diana Hamlet-Cox, the company’s vice president of intellectual property, to respond. Incyte is one of the leading holders of gene patents and a past courtroom foe of Affymetrix’s. The two companies settled patent litigation in late 2001.

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