Think that you own your genes? Yes and no. Sure, they might be the basis of who you are, but currently patents allow companies exclusive financial and research access to about 20 percent of all human genes, including ones associated with Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, and colon cancer. Such patents might be altered soon, thanks to an ACLU lawsuit against Myriad Genetics in New York State.
Myriad has patents on BRCA1 and BRCA2, the genes responsible for most cases of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. The patents give Myriad the exclusive right to perform diagnostic tests on the genes and the legal right to prevent any other research on the genes without permission.
Read the arguments for both sides after the break.
Myriad argues that without the patents, which essentially create a monopoly on the genes for a period of time, it cannot profit from the diagnostic tests and commercial biotechnology in general will disappear.
The ACLU claims that genes are a product of nature and cannot be patented. Patents restrict innovation in genetics because patent protection laws allow the patent holders to stop others from conducting research on the genes.
“The patent system was designed to reward and encourage human ingenuity. But genes are naturally-occurring parts of our bodies, not inventions,” said Daniel B. Ravicher, Executive Director of PUBPAT and co-counsel in the lawsuit. “Patents on human genes should never have been granted in the first place. Genes are identified, not invented.”
The timeline for the ruling is unclear.
What do you think? Should patents on genes be allowed? What impact do gene patents have on innovation?
Image courtesy of svilen001