By Samuel W. Anderson

You are reading the largest issue - by far - in GeneWatch's 27-year history, and the majority of the articles and interviews herein focus on the topic of gene patents. It might have been more difficult to fill the better part of 52 pages with discussion of a single topic if everyone wasn't already talking about it.

Now, you might as well know upfront that the Council for Responsible Genetics' official position on gene patents is more than a little critical C9 which is to say, some of CRG's board and staff have put in a good deal of work to support a ban of gene patents. However, GeneWatch is not in the business of simply lining up a powwow of agreement. Some of the voices represented in this issue fall on the other end of the spectrum, supporting the logic and utility of allowing patents on genes. David Koepsell and Kevin Noonan have butted heads over the issue in other venues; James Evans co-authored a key report criticizing the gene patent system, and Paul Billings co-authored the dissent; and Sandra Park of the ACLU and Daniel Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation (p. 22) are plaintiffs in the suit against Myriad Genetics, for which Richard Marsh is General Counsel.

That case-in which a district court ruled several of Myriad Genetics' patents on genes related to breast cancer invalid-is referenced often in the following pages. Association for Molecular Pathology et al. v US Patent and Trademark Office et al. (or, for short, AMP v. USPTO, or AMP, or 'the Myriad case,' or 'the BRCA case') has drawn national media attention, and with it, the kind of hyperbole made for sound bites. Some opponents of gene patents don't mind suggesting that by patenting human genes, a company or scientist literally owns us; while some pro-patent advocates seem to believe that the biotech industry, and the entire country with it, is on its way to utter ruin if gene patents are invalidated.

Yet in a debate so rife with hyperbole, there is a wide gulf of gray area. Even if the Myriad case-currently under appeal-must ultimately fall one direction or the other, it has stirred up a wider discussion with plenty of room for nuance.

Both the hyperbole and the nuance were apparent in the various responses to a Department of Justice amicus brief pertaining to the Myriad case. The brief held that human genes are, as products of nature, unpatentable, and that when a DNA molecule is isolated it is "no less a product of nature C9 than are cotton fibers that have been separated from cotton seeds or coal that has been extracted from the earth."

Many anti-gene patent advocates celebrated the brief as a victory, even though, as Magdalina Gugucheva (p. 26) points out, the brief's actual position actually falls well short of endorsing a ban on gene patents. Meanwhile, patent lawyer Harold C. Wegner summed up his thoughts in an email newsletter: "Eric Holder Hijacks the Patent System, Flunks Patents 101."

Exaggeration is interesting, which is why I am a bit sorry to tell you that the following pages are chock full of intelligent, level-headed discussion. Then again, depending on where you stand, you may find some of it not quite so enlightened. At any rate, I can guarantee you this much: you won't agree with everyone. Wouldn't that be boring?

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Created in 1999 by the Council for Responsible Genetics, the Safe Seed Pledge helps to connect non-GM seed sellers,distributors and traders to the growing market of concerned gardeners and agricultural consumers. The Pledge allows businesses and individuals to declare that they "do not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds," thus assuring consumers of their commitment.
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Rapid developments in biotechnology over the last two decades have enabled corporations and scientists to alter nature's handiwork for commercial profit. The patent, a tool originally created to insure that inventors could share in the financial returns and benefits deriving from the use of their nventions, has become the primary mechanism through which the private sector advances its claims to ownership over genes, proteins, and entire organisms.
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