The Journal of Philosophy, Science & Law:
Richard M. Lebovitz
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Although the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) has granted patents on genes for over 20 years, the prudence of gene patenting continues to stir controversy. Some have questioned the ethics of monopolizing a resource that is so fundamental and basic to all living organisms. It has also been argued that patents unfairly restrict the use of genes, impeding both basic and commercial research. For the biotechnology industry, however, gene patents are the currency it uses to protect its investment in research and development, and eventually, the products it brings to market. This paper examines the eligibility of genes for patenting, and considers whether the policy reasons that have led courts to decide that certain categories of subject matter are unpatentable, apply to the realm of genes. Even if this were the case, this does not mean that biotech companies have no way of protecting their inventions. Methods and processes of using the genes do not invoke the same policy considerations, and may provide a more appropriate way of rewarding industry for the narrow discovery of a gene’s specific use.