DNA is both science and business

According to a NYT article (click hereto read it), the U.S. government changed their minds on a very important scientific and business issue. They have decided that companies can no longer patent human and other genes. This is quite a reversal as up until now, for decades, the government has given out patents for genes. Companies in the biotech industry are opposed to this new ruling because it means that their investments, research and business might be in some jeopardy.

The decision that the U.S. government has taken is as a result of believing that just because a gene has been isolated, it doesn’t mean that it changes and thus, is a part of nature. Since nature can not be patented, then these genes can not be patented either. The government still supports giving patents to genes that are manipulated because that requires changing them from their natural state. Still, there are concerns from some people that this will prevent developments in this field. If companies can’t patent genes, then they are less likely to invest in research to make products that can help people in many ways. Since it is so expensive to develop these types of medicines and treatments, companies would need to be protected by a patent to ensure they will recoup their investment.

However, there are also those that say that by giving companies patents on genes, it will prevent other companies and research centers from using and improving the patented genes. They say that this will actually slow down the development of important treatments and medicines. In reality, both sides are partially right. There has to be a fine line between the two sides somewhere in the middle that will make more sense. One idea is to shorten the amount of time a patent for genes will hold for. This will allow companies to recoup some of the money and allow them to be first in the market but still not be too long so that other companies and research centers can use them as well.

This ruling is not the law yet and it is still unclear if it will actually become law. There are apparently disagreements among the government agencies about this ruling. It is also not clear what would happen to the thousands of patents on genes that have already been awarded if this ruling does change the law. Time will tell how this plays out and if it is newsworthy, I might follow up on this subject.