Patently Absurd? Or Absurdly Patentable?
The US Supreme Court might agree to rule on the validity of stem-cell patents, and the Canadian courts are being asked to invalidate a patent on disease-linked genes. These suits may not succeed, but they do indicate that the legal issues around patenting human genes and tissues have not yet been resolved.
David Jensen of the California Stem Cell Report has a run-down on the stem-cell patent held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, better known as WARF. The case has been brewing since 2006, and an appeals court ruled in favor of WARF earlier this year. Technically, the latest appeal is about standing to sue — Consumer Watchdog is the plaintiff, working with Jeanne Loring of Scripps and the Public Patent Foundation. However, the underlying question, as Michael Hiltzik pointed out in the Los Angeles Times, is: Can scientists patent life? The Supreme Court may refuse to take the case; if it does, it may make a very narrow ruling. Or, of course, not.
Meanwhile, in Canada, an Ottawa hospital is challenging patents that cover a genetic test for a heart condition. The patents involved are held by the University of Utah, Genzyme Genetics and Yale University. The Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa reckons they can do the test for less than half the $4500 price, and besides:
"Our position is very straightforward," Alex Munter, the hospital's CEO, told a news conference. "No one should be able to patent human DNA, it would be like patenting air or water."
If the Canadian suit succeeds, it will contradict the position recently taken by the Australian Supreme Court and extend the influence of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Myriad case.
Previously on Biopolitical Times:
- How Should the U.S. Regulate Genetic Testing?
- Free Dolly!
- More Reactions to the Supreme Court's Gene Patent Decision
- Reactions to the Supreme Court Ruling Against Myriad