A patent allows the holder to exclude anyone else from making, using or selling the 'invention' for up to 20 years although this can be extended by clever manoeuvring for up to 30 years. Since 1980, patents have been increasingly extended to include living organisms, their organs or body parts, and their genes. Some countries - particularly those in the developing world - are resisting such moves but, citing free trade rules, the US and industry are pushing for all countries to allow patents to be granted on genes and living organisms.
Evidence is emerging which shows that patents are:
- preventing or hindering development of new or improved medicines and treatments;
- limiting access to healthcare by increasing the cost of diagnostics and treatment for certain diseases;
- inhibiting the free exchange of information between researchers;
- skewing research towards commercially attractive science;
- involving unsuspecting parties in extensive and costly legal battles.
In 2010 a US federal judge struck down a several patents on human genes. Read the New York Times article and the US court's decision on Myriad's patents for the breast cancer predisposition genes BRCA1/2. Myriad appealed against this decision and there are ongoing court cases in the US.
Patenting Life - The Guardian newspaper special supplement (November 2000)
Based on research specially commissioned from GeneWatch UK. The 12-page supplement provides an in depth analysis of the race to patent the genes of humans, animals and plants. It includes details of which companies have patented what genes, articles on the implications of gene patenting and a Beginner's Guide to Gene Patents.
A complete list of the applications for patents which GeneWatch UK supplied to The Guardian and latest reports on the patent debate can be found at www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/genes
- External links
- Press articles
- Bloomberg: Myriad Genetics Sues Ambry to Thwart Rival Cancer Test (9th July 2013)
- The Telegraph: The firms putting a copyright on cancer (1st July 2013)
- BBC: US Supreme Court says human DNA cannot be patented (13th June 2013)
- The Guardian: Human genes patent ruling: some clarity but real problem remains (13th June 2013)
- Public Service Europe: Are patents on apes morally acceptable? (8th March 2013)
- Salem-News.com: Family Farmers Travel to Washington D.C. to Take on Monsanto (6th January 2012)
- Bloomberg: DuPont Sends in Former Cops to Enforce Seed Patents: Commodities (28th November 2012)
- Bloomberg: Monsanto Seed Patent Case Gets U.S. Supreme Court Review (5th October 2012)
- Nature News: Personal-genetics company patent raises hackles (31st May 2012)
- The Guardian: It's time for a register of interests for science academics (10th April 2012)
- Press Releases
- GeneWatch PR: New controls needed to maintain independence of science: research shows scientists fail to disclose financial interests in the journal, Nature 2nd November 2006
- GeneWatch PR: GM animals high in omega-3 fatty acids: scientist ready to cash in via patent. GeneWatch UK response to paper published in Nature today 5th February 2004
- GeneWatch PR: Patent on life warning as links between Biotech companies and Japan Tobacco exposed 12th November 2001
- GeneWatch PR: Patenting Genes – Stifling Research and Jeopardising Healthcare 29th January 2001