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Here's a little-known fact: Under current law, it's possible to hold a patent on a piece of human DNA, otherwise known as a gene.
Companies that have acquired patents for genes have specific rights to their use, which may include diagnostic tests based on those genes, as well as future mutations that are discovered.
In a new lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union alleges that the policy is unconstitutional.
It's hard to believe, but private companies hold the patent rights to some of the genes in your body. The companies say the patents help them develop new treatments for serious diseases. But this week, a group of cancer patients and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit claiming the patents put them in danger
Legally, this could be a free-for-all.
While the courts and Congress are inclined to protect genuine invention, genes exist naturally in the body. And if you can't patent natural products like water, the argument goes, how can you patent DNA?
"Common sense should tell everybody that it's wrong to allow a private company to own a body part," ACLU attorney Chris Hansen said.
"The patent law says nothing about ethics.”
Josephine Johnston, bioethicist at the nonpartisan Hastings Institute, said she thinks that allowing patents for human genes was probably a mistake. She said she would draw the line at modified genes being acceptable as intellectual property, but not genes in pure form. From a legal point of view, that would mean unmodified plant and animal genes would also be off-limits.
In a moral argument, however, one could say that there is a "common humanity" -- that human genetic material belongs to all humans -- or agree that no plant or animal genes should be patented.
Genes are the basic units of heredity in all living organisms.
But genes are naturally-occurring parts of our bodies, not inventions. Researchers identify genes, they don't invent them. U.S. law recognizes this differentiation; there is long-standing legal precedent that "products of nature" are not patentable.
Nevertheless, the USPTO has ignored this obvious discrepancy for roughly 20 years and has proceeded to issue gene patents on the basis that genetic sequences are "isolated and purified."
These steps – simple enough for any graduate student in genetics or a related field to perform – do not make a gene patentable, any more than removing gold from a mountain makes gold patentable. This is why we are suing the USPTO, to get them to stop issuing such patents which are contrary to the law.
As a result, information taken from the human genome (DNA information) is being transacted as it has economic value. Western countries own the majority of this DNA information. Patent law is being utilized for legal protection of such DNA information. Pharmaceutical companies, then, endeavor to develop innovative drugs using DNA information
If, perhaps, a specific gene of a person who has some valuable trait, such as AIDS immunity, is sequenced and these results are different than that in any other knowledge base, then it can be held as a 'valuable secret', until such a time as someone else acquires the same genetic material and sequences it. (Patent is now for 20 years)
Well they can't own mine...I bought the patent 14 years ago!
Someone think of the children of the future!
I’ve recently tried to put together a post on genes and Biotech companies patenting patients genes.
Not quite finished with it but the debate is - in patenting genes, a company literally *owning* your unique body - will this be beneficial to humans, or not. (Once again our rights being disregarded for the good of the *all* - when it’s really the good of Big Pharma)...
Anyway - I fell into this post and the The Promise of Personalized Medicine - The X Prize Foundation.
Imagine the day when you and your doctor sit down to review a copy of your own personal genome. This vital information about your biology will enable your physician to inform you of your disease susceptibilities, the best ways to keep yourself healthy and how to avoid or lessen the impact of future illness.
The use of personal genetic information to predict disease susceptibility and guide proactive care has the power to transform our entire healthcare system.
So I've got a lot to think about now!
Patent vs. transforming health care, rights of a person vs. benefits to the whole species...