In the United States, the patent system was set up promote innovation and discovery in the sciences and arts by granting the inventor a monopoly over the invention for a short period of time (or at least short if that is what you think of when you hear “20 years”). While the length of patents is certainly something that can be argued, that is not what I want to talk about with this blog post. What I want to discuss are genetic patents and their impacts on the world.
Genetic patents first saw the light of day in the United States in 1906 when the courts ruled in the case Parke-Davis v. Mulford that a form of adrenaline could be patented because it was more useful in its genetically altered form than its natural form. From then on out, genetic patents have been commonplace in America. Whether or not these genes should be patented is a topic of huge debate.
For starters, it is important to understand what it is that these patented genes are being used for. In some cases the patents are used so that company can produce certain types of microorganisms for various applications, such as producing bacteria that eats oil that is spilled in bodies of water. In most other cases, these patents are used in the development and production of drugs and medical diagnostics tests.
Companies will claim that these genetic patents need to be in place in order for them to stay in business. They feel that in order to stay in business while pursuing these medicines they need the protections that a patent offers (because nothing screams market competition more than a 20 year monopoly). They also claim that it promotes the research and development of these medicines. That may be true, but there are already organizations and universities that do research on the same topics. The big pharmacy companies are doing it just to make a profit.
And that brings me to one of my biggest issues I have with genetic patents. Not only do they grant temporary monopoly on a gene and by association the products produced by them, but these companies are exploiting that to charge absurds amount of money for these products. Medicine is something that people should not have to worry about spending a fortune on, but unfortunately that is the world we are living in today. People can claim that health insurance should be able to buffer the issue of the price of these medicines, but anyone with two eyes can see how broken the healthcare system is ($100,000+ dollars for a one night stay in the ER in some cases?!?!). All this is doing is allowing those with money to thrive, while those without money suffer the consequences. My pop-pop had heart surgery about a year ago, and after surgery he had to take a certain prescription of a potassium supplement that cost over one thousand dollars for a THIRTY DAY supply. That is absolutely ridiculous! Not only are these genetic patents making health care costs absolutely insane, but they are also restricting the amount of research that can be done on the gene, thus slowing down medical results. Last time I checked, that was not what the whole system of intellectual property was set up for.
As noticed from above, I make it no secret that I am against the patenting of genetic material. The United States is currently making some headway in getting rid of genetic patenting, but it still has a long way to go. Along with that, more than genetic patents need to be changed in order to see noticeable results in the field of medicine and health care. While progress is always slow, I can only hope that change will be made for the better in the long run.
“Biological Patents in the United States.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Mar. 2014. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.
“Patenting Genes: Pros and Cons.” Genetics Generation. Genetics Generation, 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.