Surprise: Justice Department Says Isolated Genes Should Not Be Patentable

from the didn't-see-that-coming dept

Well here’s a surprise. In the appeal of the ruling from earlier this year that genes are not patentable, the Justice Department has decided to weigh in with an amicus brief, changing the government’s longstanding position on gene patents. The government’s official position is now that isolated genes should not be patentable, though it does suggest that “manipulated” DNA could be patentable. They basically make the argument that merely isolating a gene isn’t an invention, which makes perfect sense. What’s interesting is that the Justice Department’s position appears to disagree with the USPTO’s stated position until now. There must have been a hell of a political fight within the administration to get this through… Anyway, the full filing is after the jump.

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Comments on “Surprise: Justice Department Says Isolated Genes Should Not Be Patentable”

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Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"...which makes perfect sense..."

Patents are granted for, e.g., new and nonobvious compounds of matter. Gene patents are for _isolated_ gene sequences. _Isolated_ gene sequences do not exist in nature, therefore they are patentable.

Want to explain why the contrary “makes perfect sense”? It seems to me your anti-patent bias is leading you to shoot from the hip again.

Your friend, Anonymous

RikuoAmero (profile) says:

Re: "...which makes perfect sense..."

Yeah they do. Viruses are made up of simple strands of DNA or RNA. Granted, there is debate over whether or not viruses are living organisms, and DNA does equal a gene, but you get the idea. What Mike Masnick doesn’t like here is the thought that for example, a gene company can isolate a gene for say, red hair, and then be able to legally demand compensation from everyone with red hair. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but should a company claim ownership of the basic building blocks of life itself?

Jon Lawrence (profile) says:

Re: "...which makes perfect sense..."

Can you please explain how isolating a naturally occurring piece of matter is patentable?

Your argument in my mind sounds like, “well, if one takes water, and removes the oxygen from it, the oxygen should be patentable.”

A gene sequence, as the name implies, is still made up of naturally occurring genetic material; e.g. NOT material created by the patent filer. (again, to state the obvious, isolating part of substance is NOT equal to creating the substance).

The process of isolation may be patentable, but not the material.

Am I missing something here?

anon says:

Re: Re: "...which makes perfect sense..."

uh, ammonia is common, albeit shortlived, in nature-anyone that has toured a barnyard in summer can attest to that. It photodecomposes in sunlight quicky, but it’s produced in quantity by urine. Oh, and Plutonium does exist in nature, briefly, a by-product of most fission (google on natural fission reactors, they’ve happened). It’s has such a short half life, that there’s pretty much none left on earth but for the artificially transmuted fission products of nuclear reactors.

anonymous says:

Patents on life forms goes back to light beer yeasts, backfilled with 'plant breeders rights'

This is marvellous news! In the mid 1970’s, Jeremy Rifken (sp?) brought up the issue at the Asilomar conference. As a then plant breeder in training, I found the notion of patenting life forms difficult enough to change careers. Harvard aquired a patent on the entire human immune system simply by splicing it into a mouse. It seemed utterly feasible from there, that one could patent a mouse with the full human genome in it, and with a little tweaking, fabricate clones that were fully human but legally mice, and sell them. We could make the Blade Runner/Android’s Dream scenario a reality.

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