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Old April 15th, 2013 (10:51 AM).
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In the US the Supreme Court heard arguments today on whether the human genome should be allowed to be patented as intellectual property as it has been for decades. Here is an article if you want to read up a bit:

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Human genome: US Supreme Court hears patents case

The US Supreme Court has heard arguments questioning whether the human genome can be claimed as intellectual property.

The case relates to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2009, and centres on whether companies should be able to patent genes.

US authorities have been awarding patents on genes to universities and medical companies for almost 30 years.

The case may have far-reaching repercussions for future gene research.

Currently, researchers and private companies work to isolate genes in order to use them in tests for gene-related illnesses, and in emerging gene therapies.

According to researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in the US, patents now cover some 40% of the human genome.

The ACLU lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the Public Patent Foundation, relates to seven patents on two human genes held by US firm Myriad Genetics.

'Products of ingenuity'

The genes are linked to breast and ovarian cancer, and Myriad has developed a test to look for mutations in these genes that may increase the risk of developing cancer.

The company argues that the genes patented were "isolated" by them, making them products of human ingenuity and therefore patentable.

The ACLU rejects this argument, saying that genes are products of nature, and therefore can't be patented under US laws.

Speaking immediately after the hearing, the ACLU's lawyer, Christopher Hansen, said: "Myriad did not invent the human genes at issue in this case, and they should not be allowed to patent them.
"The patent system was designed to encourage innovation, not stifle scientific research and the free exchange of ideas, which is what these patents do."

His co-counsel on the case, Daniel Ravicher, said granting patents on genes was "morally offensive".

"Genes are the foundation of life, they are created by nature, not by man," he said.
In 2010 a New York federal court ruled in favour of the ACLU, but an appeals court has on two separate occasions sided with Myriad.

The Supreme Court rejected the appeal court's conclusions, and is now reconsidering the case.

A ruling from the court is expected in June.

The outcome may have significant repercussions for the multi-billion-dollar US pharmaceuticals industry.

Companies like Myriad argue that without patents, the development of genetic tests and therapies will stall as researchers will not be able to recoup the huge levels of investment needed.

"Countless companies and investors have risked billions of dollars to research and develop scientific advances under the promise of strong patent protection," said Peter Meldrum, the president and chief executive of Myriad.

In statements submitted to the Supreme Court, Myriad said the materials and methods protected by the patents took years to develop

"This was the product of creative, human ingenuity, resulting in significant new applications for human health that were previously unavailable," it said.
[source]


At issue is, of course, money since investors like the idea of proprietary rights to the outcomes of the research, but also about what should or shouldn't be open to patent: Is the human genome part of nature and therefore should not be open to ownership? Do these patents stifle scientific research? Who's right? What should the law decide?
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Old April 15th, 2013 (11:06 AM).
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I read that title as Human Genome Project first, but then realised that I'd misread and wished that I hadn't. This is muuuuuch worse.

I don't understand how someone can patent parts of life, honestly. Genes are discovered; they're not an idea that someone comes up with and not a product that someone manufactures. The idea of patenting them is just... ugh. Absolutely absurd and nothing but money grabbing.

I also feel like the argument that the companies isolated the genes, therefore making them a product of human ingenuity to be a seriously weak one. If I pull a leaf off of a tree, that doesn't make it a product of ingenuity. It makes it a leaf that's been pulled off a tree. Just like an isolated gene is... nothing more than a gene removed from DNA. I assume the companies isolated them through the use of restriction enzymes too. Guessing they made those themselves? No? Then that's not theirs either so they can't even claim to have come up with the tools used to isolate the genes.

The companies in no way own genes and should absolutely not be able to patent them. What next? They sue people for having cells expressing 'their' patented genes? I hope for the sake of science that this doesn't go ahead.
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Old April 15th, 2013 (11:33 AM).
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Genes can be manufactured as well as discovered. If I analyzed all of the residues of a certain protein, I could make modifications here and there in the DNA to make a better protein with none of the shortcomings. People have done that to make bacterial enzymes usable in detergent where the pH would otherwise destroy them. Synthetic DNA would be totally fine with me.

But isolating genes found in nature is laughable. I could do that for a master's thesis but I don't think I'd expect to get paid for it XD. It would be terrible if all the different mutations responsible for cystic fibrosis were to be owned by different companies, so in order to develop a genetic screening test you had to get licensing from all of them. So even these patents do incentivize research and development, it'll probably add up to a lot of inefficiency and underutilization on the market.
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Old April 15th, 2013 (11:37 AM).
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Oh! For clarification, I'd be okay with manufactured genes being patented, maaaaaybe as well as genetically engineered plasmids and the like. If it doesn't occur naturally then I'm alright with it (to an extent anyway) but human genes occurring naturally is a gigantic no from me.
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Old April 15th, 2013 (12:08 PM).
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Can you put a patent on Natural genes? That just seems kind of wrong to me. Its a natural thing that all humans have and genes in general are something all life has, can you really put a patent on that? I really dont think it's right. Im talking about what's naturally occuring here, not man made genes.
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