US Patent Office Patents New Discovery: YOU

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You might believe you are independent, extraordinary and free - that you choose your destiny and sky’s the limit. But what if someone already owns parts of you; significant pieces that make who you are? Yep, your genes are up for sale.

Current US Patent Office policy allows the patenting of isolated genes. An example of such a gene is BRCA1, by Myriad Genetics, which can predict a woman’s chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer. From these patented genes, companies are able to create and generate revenue from diagnostic tools that test for specific diseases.

However, this is creating a problem for scientists since the ability to own genetic intellectual property greatly slows down the research process. Research into tests and diseases, such as cancer, now requires researchers to obtain licenses from patent holders.

Therefore, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has recently argued before the federal district court judge Robert Sweet that patents on genes are unconstitutional. The suit has argued that “because every human has these genes, the patents infringe on First Amendment rights of freedom of scientific inquiry and the free exchange of ideas.”

In my opinion, I strongly believe the ability to patent on genetic material is unconstitutional. The US Patent Office denies the ability to patent the obvious, such as a color or a shape. Similarly, genes are common and shared among nearly everyone, which makes it universal and obvious. Furthermore, a patent should be awarded for inventions, not discoveries. Merely finding something does not mean that you created it; discovering a gene is very different from inventing the thermometer and syringe.

Lastly, although the presence of private industry is important in scientific research, I feel research on the basic level should not be limited by industry concerns. Instead, the information should be allowed to flow freely, and industry may own the rights to tools or techniques that stem from these discoveries.

- blog authored by Kevin Li

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