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Patenting Genes: Pros and Cons

Patenting Genes: Pros and Cons

Pros:

* Gives companies that patent genes time to look at the genes without competition. These companies do not have to worry that other companies are competing with them to make new discoveries. This is especially important for smaller companies that may not have the financial support to compete with larger, more established companies.

* Encourages research and development in private industry. Patents support innovation and invention by giving companies rights to gene sequences. The lure of a potential patent drives and pushes researchers to think more creatively and work harder in order to obtain a patent for their work.

* Provides opportunities for investment in research and development. Companies, as well as individuals, can invest in a patented gene. This provides financial support for the development of useful innovations. It can take hundreds of millions of dollars to introduce a new drug to the market. Most companies do not have this money and rely on investors for financial assistance.

 

Cons:

* Hinders research. Since patents give the owners intellectual property rights on the patented genome sequence for 17 to 20 years, many people fear that gene patents hinder research. For example, patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene variants, which have been linked to inherited breast and ovarian cancers, belong to Myriad Genetics. The patents give Myriad Genetics exclusive rights to conduct diagnostic tests on these genes. This means that other companies are not allowed to work with these genes, missing out on the potential to make important discoveries on these patented genes.

* Leads to monopolization of genes. Companies that hold gene patents have exclusive rights to them and may decide to not allow other companies to look at these genes. This may lead to a monopoly and foster a secretive culture among research companies.

* Slows down medical results. If a company holds a gene patent, they own sole rights to research and testing on that gene. So if a patient has a test done on that gene, the samples must be sent to the company owning the gene patent in order to be tested. This could cause delays in getting test results.

CLICK HERE for a case study addressing gene patents
CLICK HERE for an introduction to gene patents