Science: Biology in Court

Question: When is a plant not a plant? Answer: When it goes to court.

Most people do not think of microscopic bacteria as plants, any more than they think of amebae, clams and sponges as "animals." But practically all biologists class bacteria as plants. Some plants can be patented. Last week Technology Review, M. I. T.'s bouncing monthly magazine, had itself a chuckle as it told of a recent attempt to patent a bacterium.

In 1930 Congress passed a law providing for the patenting of almost "any distinct and new variety of plant." Since then 420 patents have been issued for a variety...

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