June 05, 2019

Discussions Being Conducted In the United States about a Draft Bill Which Proposes To Patent Genes of Human Beings

[ By Bobby Anthony ]


Lawmakers in the United States are weighing a new proposal which could allow human genes to be patented by private companies.

If a bipartisan draft bill released recently by Senators Thom Tillis and Chris Coons makes changes to several sections of statutes covering patent law, it would nullify earlier US Supreme Court rulings.

IN 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States had unanimously struck down patents on two human genes—BRCA1 and BRCA2—associated with breast and ovarian cancers.

In that landmark judgment, Justice Clarence Thomas had ruled at the time that isolated DNA “is a product of nature and not patent eligible.”

The decision had invalidated patents held by Myriad Genetics, the defendant in a 2009 lawsuit brought by dozens of patients and researchers represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Critics have expressed concern that if the new draft bill becomes law, it could end up carving up the world’s genetic resources into commercial fiefdoms, forcing scientists to perform basic research under constant threat of legal action.

However, before the proposed patent bill is finalized, there will be a series of three public hearings before a Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, which Senator Tillis chairs and of which Senator Coons is ranking member.

Around 45 witnesses are expected to testify before the Subcommittee. They would include law professors, retired judges, former heads of the US Patent and Trademark Office, pharmaceutical and medical diagnostic testing executives, and trade associations representing Big Tech, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.

The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed the bill. It has written a letter to the lawmakers signed by 169 scientific societies, research institutes, and patient advocacy groups arguing that the proposed changes would suffocate potentially life-saving biomedical research and impede patients from accessing affordable diagnostic testing.

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