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Granting patents on genes hinders biotech research

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2007 - Autumn


Companies shouldn’t hold patents on genes any more than they should own the air we breathe, said David R. Koepsell, J.D., Ph.D., a Donaghue Initiative Visiting Scholar in Research Ethics at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, speaking at a lecture in June.

“I think the current situation, where about 20 percent of the genome is patented, is a disincentive for innovation and chills research,” said Koepsell, a philosophy professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “It’s not based in either good policy or logic.”

Koepsell argued that genes found in nature do not fit into the current definition of intellectual property. They are neither inventions nor the expression of a new idea. Patents, he said, should reward novel uses of genes for tests and therapies, rather than simply the sequence of DNA itself. Patents are currently granted for both genes and their uses.

Some scientists say putting a stop to gene sequence patents could harm the biotechnology industry, but Koepsell disagrees. “In fact,” he said, “I think it will create new opportunities for small players who want to come in who can’t afford the licensing fees. I think it would actually be a boon for technology.”

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