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Gene trade

Patent laws were designed to protect actual inventions, not discoveries of natural phenomena. Patenting the human gene is challenging that rule. This is not in the public interest

By John Maddox   March 1996

Are there any circumstances in which a private citizen, a public institute or a corporation can legitimately hold a patent on a human gene? All patent laws refuse protection to discoveries about the natural world; Columbus could not have patented America. But genetics has become so competitive and potentially profitable that researchers (or, more often, their corporate sponsors) are nibbling away at the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. The distinction between discovery and invention is becoming blurred.

There was a spectacular illustration of this four years ago, when the US National Institutes of Health, on behalf of…

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