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DNA. It’s in our blood. And recently, it’s also been in the news. This Monday, the Association for Molecular Pathology is going up against Myriad Genetics in the Federal Supreme Court. Myriad recently spent millions of dollars researching possible causes for cancer, and found two genes to be associated with breast and ovarian cancer. These genes have a high yield in predicting who will have cancer and who won’t. For those of you who don’t know, this is a huge breakthrough with the potential to save thousands or even millions of lives. Now, Myriad wants to patent these genes. And why? For money of course! And you may ask ‘Why would this have to go in front of the Supreme Court?’ Well, for the first time our constitution is vague and ambiguous on a topic, if you can imagine that. Like the other posts on the blog, I’m going to state both sides of the argument, and then attempt to bash the side I disagree with just for fun.
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
Patents were debated to be founded anywhere from 1331 in England to 1474 in Italy, and were and are used as an incentive for inventors. Essentially, the inventor of the patent, and the inventor alone, can sell his invention for a given number or years before others start copying the invention and selling it themselves. This gives the inventor a huge leg up on other inventors because it allows him to make money off of his invention without any competition, which the government presumed the inventor may spend creating another invention, and furthering science and perhaps the economy. In the United States, however, one may not patent nature. National Public Radio used Albert Einstein as an example, saying “even though it may have taken Einstein a long time to figure out that E=mc2, he couldn’t have patented that law of nature.” Many argue that DNA is part of nature. Is it not? Isn’t it inside each and every one of us, and for that matter, every living organism known to man?
Myriad takes a different standpoint. Gregory Castanias, Myriad’s lawyer, states the following on the findings of the genes: “it is the final step in an extraordinarily complicated set of inventive actions that led to the creation of this molecule, which had never been available to the world before.” Well Mr. Castanias, congratulations. You found the genes. But, you failed to invent anything through your findings, and they are part of nature, so these patents should be illegal!
From an ethical standpoint, it’s terrible that Myriad Genetics is attempting to patent these genes. By patenting them, the company is preventing any and all research to be done on them for a large number of years. During this time, millions of patients will be dying of the cancers that the study of these genes can prevent.
However, one cannot be this blunt without feeling bad for Myriad Genetics. They invested millions of dollars in research to find these genes, and yet, other than the benefit of helping the world, they get no money in return. Should they? If so, what should they get and where should it come from? If not, why don’t they deserve it?