Posted by: Opey | May 3, 2007

Who Owns Your Genes?

In what has to be an unprecedented event in the course of my American Business History class, I was able to find something presented in lecture both new and interesting beyond a mild curiosity. We were discussing the technological revolution of the late 20th century and its effects on American business. When we started to discuss the topic of biotechnology, we arrived to the realm of property rights, particularly patent rights. It turns out that there are companies/scientists that own patents on human genes. This is something revolutionary to think about. There are people out there that have legal claim to pieces of you and I, sort of. There are a ton of questions that are raised by this issue, but one of the first is ‘Are genes not discoveries and therefore un-patentable?’ That is currently one of the debates. For some good primers on this subject, please visit The Guardian (UK) and/or The Human Genome Project. The process seems to work as follows: the genes themselves are not directly under patent protection, but any processes or systems involving the patented gene are. Obviously, there is a debate raging about the pros and cons of this practice, and it will be at the hands of the courts and intellectual property lawyers that this issue is decided. My personal position on the matter is one of a largely negative view of the practice. I can understand and support the use of patents to protect specific technologies and inventions, but I cannot support broad/vague patents that protect discoveries. It would be like someone patenting the sun and then having claim to any technologies related to its use. In addition, this issue falls under the realm of “life saving systems” that I am not a big fan of patenting due to the limiting characteristics of patents (Two of the Human Genome Project scientists agree). This is one of the debates that will become more publicly prevalent with more advances in the worlds of bio-technologies and nanotechnologies.

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