Patenting Life – a Bad Idea

Posted on February 13, 2007  Comments (5)

Patenting Life by Michael Crichton (new book = Next, also The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park…):

Gene patents are now used to halt research, prevent medical testing and keep vital information from you and your doctor. Gene patents slow the pace of medical advance on deadly diseases. And they raise costs exorbitantly: a test for breast cancer that could be done for $1,000 now costs $3,000.

Why? Because the holder of the gene patent can charge whatever he wants, and does. Couldn’t somebody make a cheaper test? Sure, but the patent holder blocks any competitor’s test. He owns the gene. Nobody else can test for it. In fact, you can’t even donate your own breast cancer gene to another scientist without permission. The gene may exist in your body, but it’s now private property.

This bizarre situation has come to pass because of a mistake by an underfinanced and understaffed government agency. The United States Patent Office misinterpreted previous Supreme Court rulings and some years ago began — to the surprise of everyone, including scientists decoding the genome — to issue patents on genes.

This has to be fixed, and here is one way that might help:

Fortunately, two congressmen want to make the full benefit of the decoded genome available to us all. Last Friday, Xavier Becerra, a Democrat of California, and Dave Weldon, a Republican of Florida, sponsored the Genomic Research and Accessibility Act, to ban the practice of patenting genes found in nature. Mr. Becerra has been careful to say the bill does not hamper invention, but rather promotes it. He’s right. This bill will fuel innovation, and return our common genetic heritage to us. It deserves our support.

Related: The Effects of Patenting on ScienceOpen-Source BiotechRecapturing R&D LeadershipInnovation LeadershipGoogle Patent Search Fun

5 Responses to “Patenting Life – a Bad Idea”

  1. CuriousCat: Software Patents - Bad Idea
    April 11th, 2007 @ 6:22 pm

    [...] MIT League for Programming Freedom on Software Patents, including: Why Patents Are Bad for Software, No Patents on Ideas by Thomas Jefferson and letter from Donald E. Knuth to the U.S. Patent Office [...]

  2. CuriousCat: Life-patents
    June 8th, 2007 @ 8:45 am

    I support the proper use of patents, but we have perverted the patent process into something that harms society. The system needs to be fixed. And the whole area of patents on life I find very questionable.

  3. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Google: Patent System in Crisis
    August 2nd, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

    “Such businesses, often referred to as trolls in patent law, have proved to be a serious minefield for tech companies over the last few years. Lee highlighted the tribulations of Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry handheld, which settled a patent lawsuit for $612m last May…”

  4. CuriousCat: Who Should Profit from Yellowstone’s Microbes
    November 23rd, 2007 @ 2:30 pm

    “Yellowstone’s hot waters are yielding remarkable new microbial specimens with implications for medicine, agriculture and energy, as well as offering clues to the formation of earliest life on Earth…”

  5. Open Source Seeds » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
    April 26th, 2014 @ 10:28 pm

    […] I find the current status of government granted patents to be very flawed, including patenting life. […]

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