Patenting of DNA Code…

I was very interested in the NOVA documentary section on the patenting of sections of DNA code.  As a big music person, I’ve always been interested in discussions of copy-writing of  creative works.  It seems valid to me that people should want to copy-write their creations and receive due credit and compensation, and I think this should definitely extend to creation of, as the film puts it, “medical therapies” as well.  These are essentially inventions, and of course the creativity and labor put into making these merits protection under the law.

This notion grows complicated to me as people are patenting specific sections of DNA mapping as outlined in the documentary.  This is troubling to me as people are essentially copy-writing something they did not create or invent.  They are instead copy-writing a part of nature, something that is innate to every person and organism on Earth.  The documentary noted that, to receive a patent, you have to prove that the thing being patented is indeed useful.  While the sections of DNA being patented are indeed useful, I agree with the scientist in the film that their usefulness is being generalized and essentially these sections are that are patented are like “packing peanuts” on the way to larger discoveries.  It seems to me like the equivalent of patenting elements on the periodic table or patenting organs or parts of the body.  Sure, they are useful and can be used for medical advances, but the work put into discovering these components isn’t the same as the work put into the medical technologies themselves.

I think that this speaks to a larger need for a separation between the business and the research aspects to genetics.  Where is the line between what is in the public domain and what should be protected?  Should the entire human genome be put online and accessible to everyone as one company does in the documentary, or should they only be accessible to scientists or even government genetic scientists?  If the ultimate aim of the medical field is to save lives and raise the quality of living for citizens of the world, I think the code of DNA should be readily available to everyone.  The question of profits and royalties should come much later, after specific medical advances have been engineered.

-Peter Linck

~ by peterlinck on January 12, 2014.

3 Responses to “Patenting of DNA Code…”

  1. Interesting and thought-provoking to me. Relatively recently (though I might be incorrect), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that while lab-synthesized artificial gene sequences were patentable, naturally-occurring sequences could not be patented.

    • Yes, Breon, you’re right. This is a huge–and salutary–change. People can no longer obtain a patent on a gene simply by identifying it, as they could prior to this court decision.

      Jay Clayton

  2. Creative ideas are constantly being mimicked, quoted, and sometimes outright stolen. Pablo Picasso said good artists borrow, great artists steal. Steve Jobs loosely quoted this in his biography and added, “We’ve always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” I think few of us in the class would complain that Jobs should not have stolen those ideas. If he didn’t, we may not have the iPhone or a number of other products Apple has produced. If a research team violates copyright to find a cure for cancer, it’s difficult to complain? I’m not supporting plagiarizing and I really do believe patents and protection of property are crucial to protecting inventions. If we didn’t have patents, people would have less of an incentive to invent. But if a company illegally used a patented gene to cure cancer and that fact came out after the cure was released, I wouldn’t care.


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