[ExI] Gene Patents: Good or Bad?

Ben Zaiboc bbenzai at yahoo.com
Fri May 28 12:14:34 UTC 2010

Rafal Smigrodzki <rafal.smigrodzki at gmail.com> argued:
> On Thu, May 27, 2010 at 12:53 PM, Ben Zaiboc <bbenzai at yahoo.com>
> wrote:
> > IMO, apart from the commercial considerations of
> patenting a process or invention, the question is:
> Does/should anyone have the right to patent something like a
> gene or a sequence of genes? ?I think the answer is pretty
> obvious, but maybe I'm too attached to the idea that someone
> else shouldn't have legal rights over something that my body
> has had since birth, that nobody invented, to think
> rationally about it.
> >
> ### This is argument against gene patents is akin to saying
> you can't
> patent a hemoglobin-based oxygen-carrying drug, since we
> all have been
> using hemoglobin for that purpose since before the words
> "hemoglobin"
> and "oxygen" were first coined. Do you notice the fallacy
> here?
> Being the first to discover the existence of a gene, its
> physical
> structure and function clearly make you an inventor (see
> definition of
> invention in the Patent Act). Unknowingly using a naturally
> occurring
> gene does not. An inventor then may claim rights to his
> invention, and
> the fact that you are in possession of trillions of copies
> of a gene
> doesn't give you any claims on his property.

I stand corrected.

How much do I owe the haemoglobin patent holder, for having used his 'invention' for the past few decades? Will he accept a cheque?

I'm also probably making illegal use of the genes for insulin, several immunoglobulins, a bunch of nerve-growth factors, calmodulin, a gross or so of neurotransmitters, ion channel proteins,....

I'm screwed, aren't I?

Being the discoverer of anything doesn't make you an inventor, it makes you a discoverer.  Otherwise, as Sondre has pointed out, things like platinum could be patented, which is sheer nonsense.

If someone discovers a new gene, and 'claims rights to his discovery', the problem is not that I could make any claim to these 'rights' (alongside a few billion other people, presumably), but that the discoverer could claim any rights over my pre-existing use of this discovery.  Patenting a newly-invented device to detect a specific kind of cancer gene is fair enough, but patenting the gene itself makes no sense at all.  

If I was the first person to work out how chlorophyll turns energy from photons into proton gradients, would it make sense that I could then patent this 'invention' and charge all the farmers in the world for using it?  Or, more realistically, that I could block anyone from using a technique that involved the same processes (a new solar cell, for example)?

Ben Zaiboc
(Rushing off to be the first person to patent chemical bonds, bwahahaha!)


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