Battle Over Human Gene Patents Builds

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky October 28, 2009
Biopolitical Times

Earlier this month, a key NIH committee, the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health and Society (SACGHS), recommended [PDF presentation] that gene patents should be exempted from infringement liability - a significant policy shift that would give researchers access to patented genetic information and allow medical providers to offer tests even on genes that are patented.

According to Genome Web Daily News, "If implemented, such policies could make it difficult or impossible for holders of patents on some genes and genetic testing technology to sue others using those genes." James Evans, chair of the SACGHS Task Force on Gene Patents and Licensing, said that gene patents are not, as defenders argue, "powerful" incentives for conducting genetic research or developing gene tests, and that in fact they limit patient access to genetic tests.

Human gene patents were the subject of debate this week on GRITtv, the daily viewer-supported progressive news show. Host Laura Flanders interviewed David Koepsell, author of Who Owns You: The Corporate Gold Rush to Patent Your Genes, and Gene Quinn, patent attorney and founder of Here's the blurb on the segment [relevant portion begins at 28:50]:

We tend to assume that our physical bodies are free from intellectual property claims, but a recent lawsuit by the ACLU shows us just how wrong that is. Medical research companies are actually filing patents on genes that are thought to cause certain cancers. Is this providing incentive for medical research, or a frightening step forward in corporate control?

Meanwhile, the ACLU / Public Patent Foundation lawsuit challenging human gene patents has begun winding its way through the courts. A federal judge is expected to decide soon on motions to dismiss the case filed by the defendants, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and patent holders Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation.