No Gene Patents, Please: US Dept of Justice

Needless to say, this story is rather a big deal.

By Andrew Pollack, for the NYT: U.S. Says Genes Should Not Be Eligible for Patents

Reversing a longstanding policy, the federal government said on Friday that human and other genes should not be eligible for patents because they are part of nature. The new position could have a huge impact on medicine and on the biotechnology industry.

The new position was declared in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Department of Justice late Friday in a case involving two human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer….

In essence, the new position is based on the idea that genes are naturally-occurring, and hence not inventions in the sense required by patent law.

However, the government suggested such a change would have limited impact on the biotechnology industry because man-made manipulations of DNA, like methods to create genetically modified crops or gene therapies, could still be patented. Dr. James P. Evans, a professor of genetics and medicine at the University of North Carolina, who headed a government advisory task force on gene patents, called the government’s brief “a bit of a landmark, kind of a line in the sand.”

Interestingly (or at least interestingly to philosophers and law professors), this is roughly in line with a Lockean theory of property, according to which something in nature can be claimed as property only once one has ‘mixed one’s labour’ with it.

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About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
This entry was posted in genes, patents, policy. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to No Gene Patents, Please: US Dept of Justice

  1. On July 20, 2012, the CAFC will hear arguments in a rehearing of the case after being bounced back from the US S Ct in light of a 9-0 decision invalidating the patents in Mayo v Prometheus.

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