Or so argues Michael Crichton, in Patenting Life, a NY Times editorial (thanks to Isaac Bergman for link). Excerpts:
YOU, or someone you love, may die because of a gene patent that should never have been granted in the first place. Sound far-fetched? Unfortunately, it’s only too real.
Gene patents are now used to halt research, prevent medical testing and keep vital information from you and your doctor. Gene patents slow the pace of medical advance on deadly diseases. And they raise costs exorbitantly: a test for breast cancer that could be done for $1,000 now costs $3,000.
Why? Because the holder of the gene patent can charge whatever he wants, and does. Couldn’t somebody make a cheaper test? Sure, but the patent holder blocks any competitor’s test. He owns the gene. Nobody else can test for it. In fact, you can’t even donate your own breast cancer gene to another scientist without permission. The gene may exist in your body, but it’s now private property.
This bizarre situation has come to pass because of a mistake by an underfinanced and understaffed government agency. The United States Patent Office misinterpreted previous Supreme Court rulings and some years ago began â€” to the surprise of everyone, including scientists decoding the genome â€” to issue patents on genes.