20% of Our Genes are Already Patented by Private Companies

Friday, August 13, 2010
(graphic: ACLU)

One-fifth of the human genome is currently controlled by companies that have received patents issued by the U.S. government. More than 40,000 gene patents have been awarded to biotechnology businesses, with even more on the way, what with three million gene patent applications having been filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Critics of gene patenting question why the federal government has allowed the human genome to become proprietary possessions of business, given that genes are discovered, not invented.
The legality of human-gene patenting, which began in 1990, came into question during a recent court case, when, in March, U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet struck down the patent claims of Myriad Genetics, which had been selling genetic screening for breast and ovarian cancer.
-David Wallechinsky


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