Friday, June 18, 2010

Difficult to know

Marisacat quotes from an exchange between ABC's Yunji de Nies and Robert Gibbs, about the dispersants they're going to be using in the Gulf, which may in fact be more harmful than the oil itself. De Nies, to her surprising credit, attempts to break through Gibbs's imbecilic stonewalling on this:
This particular chemical, this Corexit, as it’s called, because it’s patented, scientists are not able to see the actual formula of what this is, so it’s difficult to know what’s in it.
A more succinct summation of everything that's fucked up in this world is hard to imagine.


Jack Crow said...

The beauty of this sort of language is that it doesn't convey any meaning.

It only obfuscates.

You cannot even deconstruct it, to show where, syntactically, it's constructed on erroneous assertions or poor logic - since illogic and bad assertion are the intended meaning.

Picador said...

Not to be pedantic, but this statement doesn't actually make any sense. The purpose of the patent system (in theory) is actually to mandate, not prohibit, publication: if a chemical formulation is "patented", then by law the formulation must be published.

There are some qualifications to this, however: while the general formulation must be published, the specific formulation actually sold or used may be a variation on the general formulation, with amounts of ingredients changed or various ingredients added or taken away, as long as it accomplishes the same thing in the same way as the general formulation protected by the patent.

Thus, I might secure a patent on a new formulation for cotton candy that makes it extra-fluffy; this formula must be published with my patent. But I can add various flavourings to the mix that I sell and keep those ingredients secret.

But there's absolutely no way in which the formulation being patented could protect it from publication; to the contrary. The reason the company doesn't publish it is because it is a trade secret, not because it is patented. These are related, but almost diametrically opposite, concepts in law. In some cases, something can be covered by a patent (on the general formulation), but also be a trade secret (the specific formulation): the part that makes the company reluctant to publish it is the trade secret part.

And yes, given how far the authorities has been willing to go in infringing other people's rights and interests in the context of this fiasco (e.g. the right of journalists to take pictures), it's disappointing that they're deferring to a private company's business interests on a project of this scale. They should, at the least, negotiate some sort of disclosure of the company's formula, either to the scientific community at large, or to a panel of advisors who can assess the product's likely environmental impact. But I imagine it's not exactly their top priority for a number of reasons.

(Disclaimer: Nothing I've written here constitutes legal advice. Please consult a lawyer if you have legal questions about patents and trade secrets.)

Jack Crow said...


I think the statement is supposed to be meaningless. That's what PSs do - use a lot of words in relatively proper grammatical order, to say nothing.