The Other Side of the Gene Patent Debate

[B]eneath the court’s formalist decision lies an attempt to reconcile the ethical principle that natural phenomena can’t be patented with the economic reality of the contemporary U.S. We increasingly rely on the products of intellectual property to produce goods that the rest of the world might want to buy. If there were no patent available for gene identification, it would significantly reduce the incentive of big pharmaceutical companies to go after the basic science needed to identify genes and, potentially, create treatments for the diseases that those genes might cause. The Supreme Court cut the genetic baby in half in the hopes of preserving that incentive.

The devil, as usual, lies in the details. Those details strongly suggest that the court’s distinction rests on very shaky scientific grounds — and can be explained more by political economy than by logic. (Noah Feldman/Bloomberg)

Comments (11)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Hubert says:

    “As philosophers Margaret Radin and Michael Sandel have argued, some things really shouldn’t be made into commodities, no matter what advantages might accrue from it”

    Interesting take.

  2. Jeff says:

    Intellectual property should not exist as a concept. There should be Anit-trust laws etc., but intellectual property harms competition and cause market price distortion throughout all of the global economy.

    • Nigel says:

      How does intellectual property create price distortion?

      • Jeff says:

        It creates price distortion, because it prohibits other companies from competing and creating a better product for cheaper. Thus, companies who have a patent etc. on said product, can charge whatever they want for the product, because they decide what to charge for whatever their product is.

    • Tom says:

      But…anti-trust laws and intellectual property laws are not mutually exclusive..

      • Jeff says:

        Yes. I apologize if my comment construed that they are, I am claiming that those are used to destroy monopolies of products, but yet we encourage monopolies of products by allowing patents to exist etc.

  3. Tom says:

    Hmm, it’s always interesting to see how politics and government interfere with science.

  4. Craig says:

    What would be the point of patenting a gene? What would a company or person gain from such a venture?

  5. LMB says:

    The Courts seem to have gotten this one wrong as well.

  6. Studebaker says:

    There are economic reasons to both allow patents for genetic identification and reasons to avoid patents. This is true of medicines. Maybe a shorter patent period would be appropriate for naturally-occurring phenomenon.