Friday, July 7, 2006

Converting Taro Patent Rights into Common Rights

Taro_fields Carl Christensen sent me this important news: the University of Hawaii has filed with the US Patent Office to disclaim its interest in taro that was genetically altered by UH faculty.  This has been greeted as good news by Native Hawaiian advocacy groups (and here, too).

Some pretty interesting issues here.  Taro occupies a central place in Native Hawaiian religious and cultural beliefs.  So the University's altering and then converting taro into property was objectionable, to say the least.  What's interesting is that converting private property into common property seems to have aleviated much of the concern.  I'm wondering if the problem was that UH was altering taro or converting taro into private property.  If the former (which is what I might have thought at first would be the problem), it's not so clear to me how the conversion into common property would aleviate those concerns.  Perhaps, then, it's the later.  In which case, this controversy may be a piece of aloha jurisprudence.

Endnote: The picture of a taro field on Kauai, Hawaii, is from our friends at wikipedia.

Alfred L. Brophy
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