Here’s a disconcerting thought: for the past thirty years, genes have been patentable. And we’re not just talking genetically modified corn – your genes, pretty much as they exist in your body, can and have been patented. The US government reports over three million gene patent applications have been filed so far; over 40,000 patents are held on sections of the human genome, covering roughly 20% of our genes.
Upset? You’re not alone. Critics argue that the patents stifle potential research into disease, keep new treatments off the market, and bring in serious money to Big Pharma – all by exercising property claims that shouldn’t exist. After all, genes aren’t inventions, which are patentable – they’re discoveries, which aren’t. As Luigi Palombi noted recently at the Open Science Summit, “You can’t patent Mount Everest; why can you patent a gene?” Here, we review the history of genetic law, the current state of affairs, and interview David Koepsell, an attorney and author of a recent book on gene patenting, Who Owns You? The Corporate Gold Rush To Patent Your Genes.