Last year Melbourne company Genetic Technologies threatened to sue hospitals and laboratories testing for mutations after it bought patents off Myriad. This has triggered an Australian government supported parliamentary inquiry, instigated by Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan.
“It asks the fundamental question, ‘Who owns your body?’ – I mean do we want our bodies to be converted into a tradeable instrument that gets traded around the planet?” asks Senator Heffernan.
In general, for something to be patentable, it is required to be novel, inventive and useful, and made by man.
The human genome is presumably “man made” in the sense that fingernails clippings, urine and hair are man-made, but gene sequences are really more a scientific discovery than an invention. Mapping gene sequences is not novel and inventive in the traditional sense.
There are, however, strong economic arguments that without a financial incentive of the type that a patent provides, i.e. a limited monopoly, the private sector would not invest in gene research.
“We don’t think people should have a monopoly just because they have discovered a gene,” says Professor Ian Olver, of the Cancer Council of Australia.
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