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Report: U.S. to Oppose Gene Patenting

DNA fragment (Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

The New York Times reports today (30 October) that the U.S. Department on Justice late on Friday filed a friend-of-the-court brief stating the U.S. government’s opposition to making genes from humans and other natural sources eligible for patents. The Times says the case involves two human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

The brief makes a distinction between genomic DNA isolated from the human body and engineered genetic material. It states “that genomic DNA that has merely been isolated from the human body, without further alteration or manipulation, is not patent-eligible,” adding “it is no less a product of nature when that structure is ‘isolated’ from its natural environment than are cotton fibers that have been separated from cotton seeds or coal that has been extracted from the earth.”

Later the brief says, “New and useful methods of identifying, isolating, extracting, or using genes and genetic information may be patented (subject to the prohibition against patenting abstract ideas), as may nearly any man-made transformation or manipulation of the raw materials of the genome, such as cDNAs” (complementary DNAs).

The brief acknowledges its position runs contrary to practices of two federal agencies, the Patent and Trademark Office and National Institutes of Health that have sought or granted patents for genomic DNA. A patent attorney contacted by the Times said, “It’s major when the United States, in a filing, reverses decades of policies on an issue that everyone has been focused on for so long.”

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