Biotechnology critics Jeremy Rifkin and Stewart Newman filed for a patent in 1997 for a method of combining various types of embryo cells to produce chimeras, creatures that would be part human, part animal. Rifkin and Newman had no intention of becoming biomedical entrepreneurs. Rather they wished to take advantage of the essential nature of patent law to press their case against what they consider an objectionable form of bioengineering. A patent permits someone to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention. If their application were granted, Rifkin and Newman could use their patent rights to become private regulators of chimera technology, which could be of interest to researchers engaged in creating replacement organs for human transplants. The two men would, in effect, have the power to ban chimeras for the term of the patent, the better part of 20 years.
The Rifkin-Newman application has been rejected several times already by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, although an altered application has been resubmitted and is still pending. Georgetown University law professor John R. Thomas sees the case as a demonstration of how the patent system is being commandeered by private individuals who then go on to make their own laws, free from the traditional safeguards that prevent the government from abusing its power. This trend emerges from the willingness of the U.S. patent office to approve what Thomas calls " postindustrial" patents that cover everything from methods of doing business to human behaviors.