The Public Patent Foundation has scored a major victory over Monsanto, regarding ownership of gene transfer processes. I've written about "PubPat" (as the foundation is known) before - primarily because it represents the value of information, knowledge assets and the their role as part of - and in defining - the public domain.
As Andrew Leonard, of Salon's How the World Works, notes in his mea culpa-ish blog post on PubPat's court victory, the goals of the foundation are what matters here:
"The patent system is being abused by private actors to the detriment of the mostly unaware public. Our health, our freedom, and our economic prosperity are all under assault from bogus rights meted out to the few with the power and expertise to game a system originally established hundreds of years ago to promote progress within society as a whole. The government, through primarily a captured patent office utterly failing to achieve its mission and skewed policies implemented into patent law by Congress and the courts, is not just failing to defend the public interest from abuse of the patent system, but is complicit in and supportive of such efforts."PubPat's own press release about the court's judgement - available here - is worth a quick read byall philanthropists. Not that I think all of you deeply interested in genetically modified foods or small farmers (though we all should be thinking about our food supply), but because it is an easy read that raises questions about public and private, ownership, community rights, power, sytems, and change - a set of issues or concerns that most foundations and philanthropists do - explicitly - care about.
Philanthropy in the 21st century has to be engaged with, protective of, and aware of the role knowledge, information, and ownership of these intangible (but highly valuable) assets play in structuring both the good and the bad in our societies. They are part of every problem foundations wish to address, and foundations' actions about issues of intellectual property, ownership and use, may be valuable tools in achieving their missions. If foundations don't understand how IP works and their own relationships to it, its more likely however, that these organizations will be putting financial assets to work on issues with one hand, and defeating their own goals with their intellectual assets policies in the other hand.