Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gene Patenting News

Representation of DNA. Source
Ever since the discovery of DNA, nations have been asking themselves "can people patent genes?". On one hand, there's the intellectual property argument. The scientists or businesses that discovery certain strands of DNA are the first ones to do it and to find a purpose for it, so shouldn't they have some control over their discovery? On the other hand, those strands of DNA existed long before their discoverers came along. In the United States, patents are held on new creations, ideas and devices that didn't exist before the patentee showed up, but the patent rules were created before DNA was discovered, so there was no precedent for anything like this.
The United States Supreme Court has brought us an answer to this question (or, at least, has brought Americans an answer). Just today (Thursday, June 13, 2013) the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that human genes cannot be patented. This ruling basically means that no one can have exclusive rights to the production and use of a preexisting human gene, a ruling that I agree with. Intellectual property arguments aside, the fact of the matter is that the discoverer did not invent the gene in question. It would be like someone saying "I invented the house cat, anyone who buys a housecat or breeds cats has to pay me." An utterly absurd argument.
Now, this Supreme Court ruling goes farther than just to ban human gene patents. The ruling also states that artificially synthesized genes do deserve patents. Human genes cannot be patented because they weren't created by the discoverer, but genes that were created by the person applying for a patent can be patented. These synthesized genes did not exist before and were the creation of their inventor. I further agree with this. I believe that a person should be able to patent their own creations, not the creations of nature.
The repercussions of this ruling are that now researchers and medical professionals can do research on genetic disorders and various genes without the threat of being sued. This opens the way for medical technologies that rely on the use and replication of human genes. In the end, it has been a good day for science.

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