Patenting Genetic Material

In this ethical issue, we encounter two perspectives: To support the patenting of genetic material or to make this information accessible to everyone in the research field. We must consider that the law permits the patenting of genetic material (Cooper).

Human inventions, unlike natural organisms and phenomenons, are allowed to be patented. The entities that support patenting genetic material state that the information being patented was invented in a laboratory (Cooper). This lab invention consists in extracting a single gene or a sequence of genes from the chromosome in order to identify its function (Cooper). They also state that this compound has not occurred naturally since a human has isolated it (Cooper).


Figure 7: Patent Metaphor. Source: Gene Therapy

On the other hand, The Genetic Bill of Rights declares that “All the people have the right to a world in which living organisms cannot be patented, including human beings, animals, plants, microorganisms and all their parts” (The Board). If we consider the proposal from The Board of Directors of the Council for Responsible Genetics, the gene patenting would be prohibited. Another argument is that, if we encourage the patenting of genetic material, we would be preventing scientists from obtaining information that was found in the patents useful for their own research (Cooper). Finally, it can be said that the genetic code to be patented has always been there; what the scientists basically do is extract it and characterize it.

Both points of views have strong foundations which have prevented the issue to be solved. The Supreme Court declared that natural human genes which have been isolated will not be patented while synthetic versions of genes will be able to be patented (Mears).