Scientific American's The Gene Hunt: Should Finders Be Keepers? reminds us of the legal challenge to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarding thousands of patents on human genes. Roughly 20% of the human genome is owned by private companies, but two patents on BRCA1 and BRCA2 have patients, doctors, and the ACLU united. These two genes have been associated with breast and ovarian cancers, but the owner of the patents, Myriad and the University of Utah, have not even licensed others to conduct research or perform tests with these genes. (BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are in everyone, but it is mutations that are linked to cancer.) Instead, all tests for these cancer markers must be performed by Myriad at a cost of about $3,000. A patient or doctor has no alternative, or second opinion.
Not surprisingly, U., Myriad Genetics seek dismissal of gene patent suit tells that Myriad have asked the federal court in New York to simply dismiss the lawsuit. Interestingly, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has filed a motion requesting to be dismissed from the suit. The Salt Lake Tribune adds that a hearing is scheduled on 26 August to rule on the motions.
A gene inventor? Patent nonsense, explains that inside your body, your genes belong to you. But once outside your body, they belong to the patent owner. The Brisbane Times' article adds that the primary premise has been that a product of nature such as gold, cannot be patented. The ACLU believes that human genes represent products of nature and the patents are invalid. Besides the U.S. lawsuit, the Australian Senate will also convene hearings on August 3.
Patents in Biotechnology: Potential Impacts on Life Expectancy adds that plant genes have also been patented. Monsanto Canada sued a farmer for unlicensed seed use. The article ponders what happens if a "super-weed" develops that only one company owns.
Biotechnology has introduced many new ethical concerns. It seems that we have conquered the technological problems more successfully than the ethical issues. I believe we need the equivalent of the Atomic Energy Act for biotechnology. (See Roman DNA.) Meanwhile, I think patents on nature should be invalidated. There should be a minimum of invention required for patents, and biotechnology should have an even greater requirement for issuance. Full disclosure: I do have several patents.