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Argument: Gene patent monopolies impair research and development

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Supporting quotations

David Kravets "ACLU: Human Gene Patents Infringe Speech." ACLU. May 13, 2009: "Myriad Genetics, owns the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes associated with hereditary forms of breast and ovarian cancer. They also own the only currently available diagnostic test for these genes, which they sell for a little over three thousand dollars. And they control the right to allow testing and experimentation on these genes. It is no exaggeration to say that Myriad controls every facet of those genes. As a result, many women have been unable to get vital health information, and scientists have been unable to perform important research without paying large sums of money to Myriad."

Michael Crichton. "Patenting Life.": "When SARS was spreading across the globe, medical researchers hesitated to study it — because of patent concerns. There is no clearer indication that gene patents block innovation, inhibit research and put us all at risk."

ACLU: "Gene patents undermine the free exchange of information and scientific freedom, bodily integrity and women’s health."[1]

Michael Crichton. "Patenting Life." New York Times (Op-Ed). February 13, 2007: "Gene patents are now used to halt research, prevent medical testing and keep vital information from you and your doctor. Gene patents slow the pace of medical advance on deadly diseases. And they raise costs exorbitantly: a test for breast cancer that could be done for $1,000 now costs $3,000.

Why? Because the holder of the gene patent can charge whatever he wants, and does. Couldn’t somebody make a cheaper test? Sure, but the patent holder blocks any competitor’s test. He owns the gene. Nobody else can test for it. In fact, you can’t even donate your own breast cancer gene to another scientist without permission. The gene may exist in your body, but it’s now private property."

"New Quest: Mapping Gene Patents." Wired. March 6, 2001: "SAN FRANCISCO -- Beware of submarine-stealth genetic patents, they can be deadly for scientific research. That was the consensus of genetic patent experts Monday at the Genome Tri-Conference in San Francisco. The biggest enemy of scientific progress, the experts said, are so-called "stealth" patents -- those which are filed on genes that researchers have located, but haven't discovered their function. They sit on the patent, sometimes for long periods of time, during which no research is done.

In January, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office finalized guidelines forbidding stealth patenting, but finding these patents will be a long process.

As long as these patents exist, they can significantly undermine scientific innovation and the creation of useful products, the experts agreed. Meanwhile, the new guidelines, while useful, leave some sticky problems.

Dr. Robert Cook-Deegan -- director of the National Cancer Policy Board and the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine and Commission on Life Sciences -- said his biggest worry is what the gene patent frenzy is doing to academia. If academics are squeezed out of a patent-laden field, industry will be cutting off its most important lifeline."

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