Review: “Trademark Bugs: A Legal History” by Adam Roberts

5 of 5 stars.

This highly stylized piece of speculative fiction masquerading as a work of legal synthesis would sit comfortably in The New Yorker as a wry essay lambasting the direction regional and world courts are headed in their decisions as it concerns corporations and the big pharmaceutical companies. It’s shocking, appalling, and brilliant.

The history, written as the 21st Century closes, examines how the trademarking and distribution of both genetically engineered pathogens and cures to those pathogens becomes the driving force of world economies, politics, and health. The business and the legal cases start around three guiding principles, The Porter Rules: the pathology itself must 1) “not be ‘excessively physically distressing’ or entail any long-term hazard to health, wellbeing or longevity”, 2) “be no more virulent than the baseline virus or bacterium, prior to any genetic adaption”, 3) be preventable by some means (later modified to ‘at least one mean’) not trademarked to the distributing company.”

Drolly, case law soon decides that sane people of legal age that elect not to take common-sense precautions to avoid catching the communicable diseases “have ipso facto given consent to being infected by Trademark Bugs.” This is known as the soap-and-water test. But as the years go by, even these decisions are amended in favor of Big Pharma:

The ‘soap-and-water’ test was tested in court in 2086, when it was claimed that the Bayer Bug ‘Emerald Rash’ survived soap. The outcome (Kawasaki-86d) was that ‘soap’ was taken, legally, to include a variety of proprietary antibacterial washes and wipes.

One is reminded of modern tobacco and GMO industry arguments when the “history” includes a quote from a Big Pharma legal representative saying “The distribution of Trademark Bugs (free at point of issue, I might add) is an actual, measurable and positive incitement to people to live more hygienic lives.” She later adds, “I understand that many people feel that these corporations are deliberately infecting them with designer germs in order to increase their profits by selling them the cures–but the facts are the facts. None of that is true. Trademark Bugs have made the world cleaner and healthier.”

There are far to many good quotes from this piece as the arguments are laid out as to how purposely infecting the population does not infringe on “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It also shows Pharma expanding to take over the military and run bio-warfare in the name of humanitarianism, and the replacement of “a flat-rate one-person-one vote model to a corporate, buy-as-many-votes-as-you-like model.”

“Trademark Bugs: A Legal History” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Reach for Infinity.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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