Gene Patent Wars?

Adding to the controversy surrounding the patentability of genetic research methodology, 23andMe, a company dedicated to interpreting the human genome for the masses, announced the award of their first patent in May. The patent specifies their method of determining if an individual has a risk for Parkinson’s Disease based on particular genes. However, the patent could also have inadvertently helped initiate gene patenting “wars.” Madeleine Ball speculates that if labs begin patenting the identification of specific genes for specific diseases, other researchers will have to tip-toe around interpretations of those genes to avoid a patent infringement. This hardly seems to encourage a humanity-centered approach to understanding our genetic makeup. Instead, it turns genetic research into a gold rush for the most profitable gene-disease associations. Fortunately, in an addendum to their original patent announcement, 23andMe made clear that they do not intend to require license fees for other researchers to interpret their Parkinson’s Disease genes. If other labs follow suit, a hailstorm of litigation will be avoided, and their energies remained focused on what really matters: using our understanding of the human genome to increase our quality of life.

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