Gene patents opposed by Watson by Sidra Bashir
James Watson files a brief in the ongoing legal case over Myriad Genetics’ right to hold patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
James Watson a renowned co-discoverer of the DNA double helix has stepped in to argue against the patenting of genes. He is arguing on the basis that genes are products of nature. He decided to take action when Myriad Genetics prepared to defend its seven patents on the BRCA genes, which are associated with a higher risk of breast, ovarian, and other cancers.
In addition to understanding the uniqueness of human DNA, I hope that an awareness of the Human Genome Project’s history will guide the Court to the correct decision that human genes, as products of nature, should not be patented,” Watson wrote in an amicus brief filed this week with the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. “The human genome project was intended to benefit all, not just select companies,” added Watson, who said that he left his post that the National Institutes of Health when the agency began pursuing gene patents.
In July 2011, an appeals court in New York defended Myriad Genetics’ patents, arguing that they were based on isolated and amplified DNA sequences, and thus are not direct products of nature. Last month, however, two patents held by Prometheus Laboratories on two blood tests were ruled against by the Supreme Court. This is when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Public Patent Foundation took Myriad back to court.
According to Watson the protection of patent is not a suitable incentive for scientists to encourage the discovery of human genes. It is contrary to what lawyers and judges seem to believe. “A scientist does not—and should not—expect to obtain a legal monopoly controlling the information encoded by human genes,” he wrote. The drawbacks of patenting genes are that they could delay research, particularly the development of diagnostics that use multiple genes to identify a particular disease. If gene patents exist, he added, their holders should be required to license them to anyone who wants to study those genes further.
Others, such as Patent Docs’ Kevin Noonan, on the other hand, argue that gene patents would not stop researchers from using the genetic information. Tomorrow (July 20), the federal appeals court in Washington, DC, will hear arguments on both sides to help make its decision.
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