Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Changing Role of IP in Genomics

Credit: Sergey Nivens/adobe

Credit: Sergey Nivens/adobe

By Dianne Nicol

Recent court decisions have overturned previous rulings about genetic patents, but other intellectual property regimes are already taking their place.

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Patents that claim exclusive rights over DNA sequences, proteins, stem cells and other research materials and methods of their use continue to occupy the genomic technology landscape. On the one hand, patents of this nature could facilitate the development of novel therapies and treatments by encouraging investment in further innovation and product development. Alternatively, they could have a stifling effect if they close off new areas of research and technological innovation. This stifling effect is referred to in this article as the “gene patent” problem, recognising that the problem extends beyond simple patent claims to DNA sequences.

Australia, like many other countries, has wrestled with the question of whether this gene patent problem exists in practice and, if it does, how it should be resolved. Law reform agencies have been cautious, recommending nuanced responses. This reflects the delicate balance that intellectual property laws must maintain in protecting the interests of technology leaders, follow-on innovators and society more broadly.

There has been speculation about the gene patent problem since the start of the genomics revolution. In the early 1990s, when the Human Genome Project was in its heyday, the National Institutes of Health caused consternation in the research community when it filed applications for a multitude of patents that...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.