Partial Transcript: Episode 51: (Patents)
Nick: The Supreme Court is hearing opening arguments about patenting breast cancer genes.
Andrew: They also had discussion between the judges.
Virginia: Myriad Genetics discovered two genes highly associated with breast cancer. They patented the discovery and have 20 years of protection. A group of researchers sued.
Andrew: As they should. I understand that they put work into it, but they didn’t create these genes. They discovered them. If I discovered a plant, that doesn’t mean that I own that plant. I couldn’t sue Nick for patent infringement because he has the same plant in his yard.
Nick: The judges made a good argument, which is: I you discovered the liver, could you say that you own everyone’s liver?
Virginia: The thing I don’t understand is this: Discoverers who find land keep their claim. Isn’t that similar?
Andrew: That’s land. It’s not reproducible.
Virginia: Fair enough.
Andrew: If Nick and I are farmers, and I find a plant, I can’t patent that.
Virginia: What about selective breeding?
Nick: Let’s stick with the topic at hand. These aren’t changed. These are just markers.
Andrew: Let’s say that we’re both growing apples, and one day I get blue apples. They’re delicious. I decide to patent the plant. Then the same mutation happens in Nick’s orchard. Can I now tell Nick that he owes me usage fees?
Nick: That’s different. You’re talking gene mutation. This is a marker. This is more like saying that we can test a baby and predict cancer.
Andrew: They can patent the process of testing.
Nick: They didn’t. It was just the gene that they discovered.
Andrew: If you look at patent law, you’re not supposed to patent naturally-occurring things.
Nick: But, we’ve been releasing patents on these things.
Andrew: I totally understand that if we don’t have a way to lock it down, companies can’t make money on it.
Nick: And they think that will kill investment in genetic research.
Andrew: I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I see where they’re coming from. I don’t necessarily agree. It’s much worse for humanity as a whole to start patenting our own genes.
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