Thus, the knowledge and progress in this field is a great help in improving the ways of treating the disease. It was in 1980, when US Supreme court ruled an order in a case that a living, genetically engineered bacteria could be patented and the first patent was granted on a recombinant DNA method.
Stanford University and University of California shared this patent and researched the usefulness of cells in producing proteins that could be turned into effective drugs of great value.
Soon patent on insulin and vaccines were granted. Gene patents became a form of legal practice which allowed patents on hormones, vaccines and natural products to be turned into useful forms. By year, 2010, nearly 40000 gene patents were held by U.S. alone. Gene patents not only are for human genes but also for genes of plants and other living organisms.
If a gene patent is acquired by someone others cannot make, use or sell it or use the patent method at least for 20 years from the date of filing patent application. Anyone practicing patented invention invites legal action. But the question is definitely questionable by scientists, researchers, scholars and political groups alike that does patenting not restrict the innovation.
Some scientists argue that letting private companies and institutions patent human genes means lesser assistance in research which falls in private domain. Some consider it ethically wrong and find it absurd to patent something that is not human made.
Let us discuss some of the potential dangers of gene patents:
1. If partial or uncharacterized DNA sequences are patented, it may benefit those who make routine discoveries, but the determiners of biological function are at a demerit as they do not get a chance to test its application.
2. There is huge cost associated with using patented research data and hence third parties will not be interested in developing diagnostics and therapeutics.
3. A genomic sequence can be patented in a number of ways like an EST, a gene and a SNP. High royalty costs are associated in product development owing to patents and consumer will not be interested in bearing the passed on cost, thus discouraging the development.
4. Until a patent is granted, the application remains a secret. Companies may continue their research in developing a product without realizing that a patent was already granted in the meantime. This will increase the overhead of licensing costs and penalties due to possible research carried on a patented gene.
5. Licensing costs are passed on to the products where the patented research is applied.
6. Ethically, it goes against the nature to own patent of an organism by another organism.
7. Commercialization resulting from monopoly of gene markets can become a practice amongst private biotech institutions.
8. Patents are not disclosed publicly. Hence knowledge remains limited to the few who are a part of the research and does not reach journals and magazine articles to add to the knowledge in biotech literature.
Not only human but plant and seed gene patents have ill-effects which are being faced worldwide. Food is a basic necessity of all humans. Patent held by certain organizations of particular food crop or its seed means that they have the right to control the growth and production indirectly. They sell the seeds that can be used over a season and not re-used.
Farmers who otherwise are grain producers for the masses become dependent upon the seed monopolizes each year for buying the seeds at any cost that the company demands. Also genetically modified food can have scientific and adverse consequences on other food crops as well.
Access or right denied to the farmers and common man to grow and cultivate food crops with own seeds is like harassment and can have a negative impact on the environment, economy and human health.
Genes are the building blocks of life and not an invention like an aero plane or bulb or some part of machinery which ought to be awarded a patent.