The link above is a very well written article from CNN.com thoroughly explaining the Supreme Court ruling that human genes cannot be patented, and I wanted to reflect on it.
Personally, I thoroughly agree with the supreme court ruling. I’ve include a couple of the predominant reasons for my beliefs below.
1) Naturally created biological material should not be patentable, plain and simple. End of story!
I know this will be a gross over-simplification, but imagine if I went into the woods, climbed a tree, and discovered a new species of bug, I couldn’t patent the bug. I could patent the equipment I used to climb the tree (just like companies can patent the process of isolating material), but the bug itself was already there. I have nothing to do with it’s existence. The same is true of genes.
2) There is a fine line between inspiring innovation and being unethical.
This country was built on innovative ideas and I completely understand the need to inspire competition. Allowing patents inspires competition, because the first person to develop an idea/process/product is able to make a profit. Thus, companies are more likely to risk paying overhead costs of research and development in hopes of profits in the future. After all, they’ll be the only company that provides the service/product.
However, certain products (i.e. biological material) should be made available to everyone in order to make life-changing and/or life-saving discoveries. Allow patents that prevent alternative innovation is akin to prioritizing income over public health. Genetics has made monumental advances over the last several decades and life-changing treatments are being developed regularly. To prevent others from investigating alternative treatments/therapies that could literally save lives is unethical.
3) More ideas and cheaper tests.
Finally, the biggest reason for support the Supreme Court ruling is that development of more testing procedures and increasing availability to be test. No person should be exempt from genetic testing that could determine the fate of their existence. By increasing company access to the genes, the number of testing processes increases, which means there will be reduced costs and increased availability for the general public.
Some people may point to me 2nd argument and say, “Well there’s no reason for innovation since they won’t want to take the risks of profit loss without a patent.” To this I say, only time will tell. I don’t foresee companies stepping aside simply because of the inability to patent a gene. I see companies looking for more ways to develop patentable testing processes or isolation methods.
But, like I said, only time will tell. The future of science and medicine should be fascinating.