Bill in Australia moves to ban human gene patents

by jeeg 24. November 2010 18:56

 

Legislation to outlaw the patenting of human genes has been introduced into the federal parliament by NSW Liberal senator Bill Heffernan.

In the past, patents have been granted to biotechnology companies for genes linked to breast and ovarian cancers.

But Senator Heffernan says that's "legal hocus-pocus" because patents should only be available for inventions.

"This principle, however, has been for the past 30 years the subject of a legal trick played by clever patent attorneys," he said when introducing his Patent Amendment (Human Genes and Biological Materials) Bill 2010.

"Isolated biological materials, that is, naturally occurring biological materials that have been removed from the natural environment, such as the human body, are no longer regarded as products of nature, but as inventions."

Senator Heffernan's bill would close that loophole.

It would expressly exclude from patentability "biological materials which are identical or substantially identical to such materials as they exist in nature, however made".

The legislation would cover DNA, RNA, proteins, cells and fluids.

There has been a longstanding debate, mostly within the academic community, about whether patents should be applied to human genes.

The biotech industry argues it needs the patents to protect intellectual property and attract investment that allows vital research and development work to continue.

But Senator Heffernan said that argument didn't wash with him.

Without patents, companies would actually be able to use materials freely without the risk of patent litigation, he said.

"This will make research and development simpler, less expensive, less risky and less time consuming."

His private senator's bill was supported by the Greens and independent Nick Xenophon.

A Senate committee inquiring into the granting of patent monopolies in Australia over human genes will deliver its final report to the parliament on Thursday.

 

 

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