Recently, I was listening to the BrainStuff podcast, which I highly recommend, and Marshall Brain, the host and founder of Howstuffworks.com covers the possibility of bacteria or algae being used to create fuel, eliminating our need for fossil fuels. This is quite fascinating, and listeners speculated that the oil companies might simply kill such technologies. Brain then started speculating on ways to get around this possibility, and came up with the idea that an inexpensive do-it-yourself kit might be developed, and spread widely, making it impossible for the cheap and easy method for fuel production to be shut down. This is a very optimistic view, but I think his idea could be jeopardized by intellectual property laws.
If such a method were produced, it is difficult to imagine the bacteria/algae being unencumbered by patents. The patent holders would have incentives to prevent the sort of underground fuel production plants that Brain describes. The oil companies would not need to kill the technology. Unauthorized production of fuel could be addressed in the same way that unauthorized production of drugs and alcohol is addressed: with police raids and tax crackdowns. In fact, one way to help prevent people “unfairly” using the intellectual property of others would be to require the tracking of mileage and gas purchases for registered vehicles, so that no one could own a car, drive 20,000 miles in a year, but not have gas purchases which correspond to the miles driven. The templates for these things are already in place. All which is really needed is a new application. Old wine in new bottles.