Following the recent ruling in the Myriad Genetics case, that gene patents are invalid,
it was amusing (if it a bit frightening) to watch some patent attorneys, who specialize in the field, react as if the world had been turned upside down, and that major scientific advances in health and medicine were all going to collapse into a giant blackhole. Of course, they had no evidence to back that up. As we've seen time and time again, the evidence suggests exactly the opposite -- and now there's even more evidence, specifically when it comes to patents on genes and related processes. Justin Levine
points us to an Economist article highlighting a series of recently released studies
that found that gene patents are quite damaging:
Even more striking is the claim made by the Duke researchers that patent exclusivity is not necessary to spur innovation in genetic testing. Dr Cook-Deegan argues that testing, unlike pricey drug development, has low barriers to entry and is relatively cheap, so a monopoly is not required to lure investors. As evidence, he points to the case of cystic fibrosis: unlike breast cancer, no monopoly patent blocks access to the relevant gene, and dozens of rival testing companies flourish.
The research also found that thanks to gene patent monopolies, many people may suffer in being unable to get access to important tests, and worse (as was the case in the Myriad suit), the monopoly kills off the potential of getting any sort of second opinion -- which can be incredibly important in properly judging the situation. Of course, I fully expect the typical group of patent attorneys to ignore this evidence yet again. The full set of studies, led by Robert Cook-Deegan, at Duke University can be read
online. It was done in response to a request from the US Dept. of Health -- so perhaps the US gov't is finally starting to look at actual evidence in figuring out patent policy as well. The different studies look at the impact of patents on a variety of different diseases. The results definitely differed depending on the case study, but it's difficult to see any evidence of patents helping with innovation in any of the studies.