A few weeks ago, we wrote about the crazy situation
with the patents around tests for the disease Canavan. It's a rare genetic disease, and a group of patients predisposed to the disease got together, helped push for research, and gave DNA samples to researchers to help find the gene. The researchers who found the specific gene decided to patent it, and are making it quite expensive to test for the gene. Michael Crichton, who has joined the ranks of folks pointing out the flaws of the patent system
has another opinion piece in the NY Times that discusses the Canavan situation and rips apart the idea that genes should ever have been patented
"Humans share mostly the same genes. The same genes are found in other animals as well. Our genetic makeup represents the common heritage of all life on earth. You can't patent snow, eagles or gravity, and you shouldn't be able to patent genes, either. Yet by now one-fifth of the genes in your body are privately owned.
The results have been disastrous. Ordinarily, we imagine patents promote innovation, but that's because most patents are granted for human inventions. Genes aren't human inventions, they are features of the natural world. As a result these patents can be used to block innovation, and hurt patient care....
Countries that don't have gene patents actually offer better gene testing than we do, because when multiple labs are allowed to do testing, more mutations are discovered, leading to higher-quality tests.... When SARS was spreading across the globe, medical researchers hesitated to study it -- because of patent concerns. There is no clearer indication that gene patents block innovation, inhibit research and put us all at risk.
It goes on along the same lines. What's unclear is why anyone ever decided that genes should be patented. You can sort of understand why courts or patent examiners would think software is patentable (though, if you understand software, that often seems more questionable). But, the idea that genes should be patentable makes almost no sense at all.