by Marion Nestle
Nov 4 2010

Justice Department says natural genes should not be patented

In a friend of the court brief, the justice department said human and other genes should not be eligible for patents because they are part of nature.

Although the brief focuses on genes for breast and ovarian cancer, and specifically excludes man-made genetic modifications like those in corn and soybeans, it could be interpreted as having some implications for food biotechnology—excluding “biopiracy,” for example.

As I explain in my book, Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, patents on genetically modified foods raise at least six difficult issues, biopiracy among them:

  • Ownership: the patents are often broad and owned by just a few companies. Biopiracy: this is the pejorative term for the private appropriation of public biological resources, the precise issue that elicited the justice department’s brief.
  • Enforcement: biotechnology companies use aggressive techniques to enforce their patent rights.Injustice: court decisions have consistently favored the patent rights of food biotechnology companies.
  • Biopiracy: the pejorative term for the private appropriation of public biological resources.
  • Animal rights: patenting of animal genes raises religious and ethical questions.
  • Terminator technology: the patenting of genes that prevent seed germination (meaning that farmers cannot save seeds and have to buy new ones every year)

Even with its limited scope, patent lawyers and biotechnology industry representatives hate the brief.

One patent lawyer characterized the new position as dumb. The Biotechnology Industry Organization warned that such a policy, if carried out, would “undermine U.S. global leadership and investment in the life sciences.”

No wonder they hate it.  Stocks promptly fell.

Patenting is patently unfair.

The justice department’s brief helps some, but needs to address more of the issues noted above.


[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lewis Smith and Cold Mud, Jonathan Chiu. Jonathan Chiu said: Marion Nestle: Justice Department says natural genes should not be patented [...]

  • Anthro
  • November 4, 2010
  • 9:53 am

Anything that causes stocks to fall must have merit. Is there no limit to what some will try to manipulate for profit?

  • Suzanne
  • November 4, 2010
  • 9:58 am

Waiting for the industry shills to show up …

  • Subvert
  • November 4, 2010
  • 10:25 am

Patents and ‘intellectual property’ are for lazy, greedy people who probably stole their ‘original’ idea from some smaller lesser power anyway…

I’m not expecting any amazing revelations from our corporate halls of justice on this one.

  • B.
  • November 4, 2010
  • 11:42 am

It’s about bloody time!

  • Bobby
  • November 4, 2010
  • 4:08 pm

Can’t we just get used to the fact that corporations own everything in America? We are the enslaved masses (get over it), and we must learn to obey our corporate masters’ commands. What’s the problem here really. It’s not like the political system disagrees with this premise (oh eric holder, you naive man!).

  • Anthro
  • November 5, 2010
  • 1:00 pm

It’s not just that the corporations own everything–there are SHAREHOLDERS that own the corporations and they DEMAND ever higher returns, no matter what the cost to those parts of society they don’t have to directly deal with. If you own shares in Coke or McDonald’s, your profits are at the expense of child obesity, especially in poor neighborhoods that you are likely not to see much of. Yes, I rail at the power of corporations, but that power comes from the shareholders and they are the ones demanding ever higher returns, which begets ever-increasing, relentless and disingenuous marketing, especially to the most vulnerable.

Thanks, Dr. Nestle, for the update, links and summary of your longer analysis.

This is the first that I have heard of the case and the Justice Dept. brief. I hope you will continue to update us.

An excellent post. Very happy to have found your website.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Wall_Flower_Studio and Wall_Flower_Studio, Hella Delicious. Hella Delicious said: RT @karensloan: Biopiracy explained [...]

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