Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Michael Crichton weighs in on patenting and the Genomic Research and Accessibility Act

In yesterday's New York Times, Michael Crichton (author of "Jurassic Park" and "Next") wrote in favor of the Genomic Research and Accessibility Act, which would ban the patenting of genes found in nature. He correctly points out that genes are not inventions and attributes the fact that they can be patented to "a mistake by an underfinanced and understaffed government agency, The United States Patent Office." I note that the bill, as described by co-sponsor Xavier Becerra, is not retroactive, so, while it's a no-brainer that the patent office should not be granting patents for the discovery of natural phenomena, this bill won't do much to facilitate the promise of personalized medicine (because most of the genes that matter have already been patented). I have discussed the possibility that we might find relief in the courts before (regarding EBay Inc. vs. MercExchange, LLC and Labcorp vs. Metabolite Laboratories). Certainly, gene patents disserve the public interest, but that is not enough, and the prospect of understanding the law in these cases is daunting.