Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Great Ruling on Genetic Patents

Finally, a Federal Judge has struck down a company's claim to own a naturally occurring gene. American legal doctrine has allowed companies to claim patents on genes they isolate and explain. Among the human genes that are "owned" are BRAC-1 and BRAC-2, two variants strongly associated with breast cancer. Nobody could test for those genes without being licensed by the company that owns those patents.

Not any more. Judge Robert Sweet ruled that genes were products of "the law of nature" and could not be patented. The ruling will be appealed, but I suspect it will be upheld. When the first patents on genes were granted, the discovery of a gene seemed like a great feat of science, worthy of some sort of reward, but now dozens of new genes are isolated and described every day. Just isolating a gene is no longer a big deal. The newer testing technologies work on dozens or hundreds of genes at once, and allowing patents on individual genes will only interfere with progress in the field.

Plus, I mean, patents are given for things people invent, not things they discover. Genes are there. Some of them have been around for a billion years. To grant somebody a patent on a gene found across most living things is just transcendentally absurd.

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