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Should genes be patented?

  1. Oct 15, 2003 #1
    Gene patenting is set to become one of the major issues of the new century with corporations rushing to cash in on the pioneering research of the Human Genome Project.

    It is now possible to isolate our genes and identify them. Ultimately, this new knowledge is expected to lead to tangible improvements in treatments for various diseases such as cancer and AIDs.

    While such new treatments are many decades away, genetic screening is a closer reality, with screening for key breast cancer genes already common.

    Already, the Human Genome Project has resulted in both the private and public sectors filing for patents on genes as well as small pieces of gene sequences (also known as expressed sequence tags or ESTs).

    Those in favour of gene patenting say that if companies are not allowed to patent the products of their research, then other companies can exploit their findings to profit themselves.

    It can also be argued that genes satisfy the criteria of the patenting office in that they are found in nature and can be put to good use. As well, it's only fair that inventors should be able to protect their inventions and profit from their years of exhaustive research.

    Patents are typically granted for 20 years only so the patent holders are only able to benefit from their investments for a limited time. After this period, the monopoly ends. Patenting actively encourages openness in science because findings can be disclosed without fear of exploitation.

    However, gene patenting raises myriad legal and moral issues. There has been much debate about what constitutes a patent, how long the patent should be granted and whether patents are being issued too freely.

    Some believe that genes, which are the building blocks of human life, should not be considered as "products" to be patented or marketed because it shows a blatant disregard for humanity.

    Others say that banning patenting actually protects the public investment into genome research, which could become wasted if private companies stifle attempts to research into genes on which they hold a patent.

    The idea of turning research into such serious illnesses as cancer and AIDS into a profit-making exercise could be viewed as abhorrent. The role of medical research is to facilitate the development of cheap, available treatments and screenings for diseases and gene patenting seems to go against this process.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 15, 2003 #2


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    Risky bussiness..

    Patenting genes creates barriers for the advancement of science (when a gene belongs to someone) on the other hand, not patenting genes might lead to people not sharing information.. also slowing down science.

    I personally don't like the idea of patenting stuff unless it has a very clear purpose, like a drug that was found to cure a specific ailment. But this creates such secrecy.. I say lets keep things in the open and get your fame by publishing the data first.
  4. Oct 15, 2003 #3

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    But ignoring the fame idea, how are companies expected to fund their research? Patenting is the only way to make research profitable, and without profit, so much work currently being done just wouldn't happen. There is no way any government could support all of the research happening these days, and so they need to be profitable organisations.

    There is still a question though, of what should be patentable. Just because someone has found a gene (which was right there, waiting for anyone to find it (its not like these things are secrets anymore) hardly seems reason enough for that person to be able to patent it. But if they can specifically use that gene to a purposeful ends, then that makes it patentable (IMO).

    By patenting genes which as yet have no known function and no known medical application is just putting a block on other companies potentially finding the medical application before them: What is the utility in this? There is none, other than to the company with the patent. For the sest of society though, it will take longer before we will reap the benefits of genome sequencing, because we ahve to keep waiting for individual companies to do all of the work, or else wait for the patents to expire, so that every other company in the world can do something useful with the gene.
  5. Oct 16, 2003 #4
    I just patented your entire genome, now you have to pay me royalties everytime you use it :wink:.

    Patents should be very specific, and backed up by research. I can already see companies patenting a gene and saying if could cure every known disease to man, just in case it could. Doesn't sound very healthy at all..
  6. Oct 16, 2003 #5

    Another God

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    'can see'.... Thats exactly what they are doing!
  7. Oct 16, 2003 #6


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    That's so funny And AG, you are right about the companies needing profit.. didn't think about them :)
  8. Oct 22, 2003 #7
    This is a very interesting question, but I do not feel that anything naturally occuring should be patented. With the importance of genetics, I'd hate to see any company with complete control over a specific gene. I am definitely not happy with the capitalistic side of matters related to human health. I believe that a patent would only result in low income people missing out on the opportunity to recieve gene therapy needed to live. Of course, our genetic technology must first reach that level of advancement. In any matter, I feel that such a patent would only result in the unnecessary loss of life.:frown:

    This solution may not be any better, but I say let the companies patent procedures using the gene, rather than the actual gene itself.
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