Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Qualms about Patenting Human Genes

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Qualms about Patenting Human Genes

Article excerpt

A set of articles in the magazine Technology Review bring critical attention in a largely technology-friendly forum to the long-debated topic of gene patents ("Who Owns Your Genes?" September-October 2000).

The lead-off article, written by associate editor Antonio Regalado and provocatively titled "The Great Gene Grab," poses the by-now familiar question of how something that has been a part of you or me since our birth can be patentable. If genomic sequences are "products of nature," how can they meet the three criteria of patentable material--namely, that it be novel and not obvious, useful, and have specific direction enabling others to use it. Regalado also considers the dangers of what he calls "super patents," patents on gene sequences that control the use of drugs and other biomedical applications that incorporate knowledge derived from a specific genetic sequence. Regalado concludes that there needs to be a balance between public good and private rights, but he wonders how it can occur and what will force the change.

An accompanying commentary by William A. Haseltine, chair and chief executive officer of Human Genome Services, claims that if the biotech companies could not patent their discoveries, then their ability to recover their financial investment would be damaged and the development of valuable new products would be hindered. …

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