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Gene Patenting Pros and Cons and Ethical Consequences


By: Arbuda Singh



The discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA, which would be the genetic substance of living creatures, revolutionized biology research. Since then, researchers have made significant progress in understanding how DNA functions and how genetic variations contribute to individual differences. However, tremendous advances in biotechnology over the last decade have enabled companies, scientists, and “bioprospectors” to benefit from nature’s labour. Obtaining patent rights to organisms or their parts is a significant approach for private exploitation in this domain.

We must determine whether any company, institution, or people should have the right to private ownership of life, given that these changes affect the entire community.

The benefits of the regulatory structure to society are well-acknowledged, but the issue remains whether the applicability of the regulatory structure to DNA sequences is accomplishing its aims, which include stimulating creativity for the public good and compensating people for valuable discoveries.

Many patents asserting rights over DNA sequences have previously been awarded, although their legitimacy is questionable. Many of these patents have far-reaching and contentious implications because inventor who claims rights over DNA sequences receive protection for all uses of the patterns, which has sparked debate because they directly contradict with many moral and ethical issues. In light of this debate, we’ve sought to investigate different elements of DNA patenting.

The patent system

Before we get into the specifics of gene patents, let’s take a look at the patent system in this country.

Patents are exclusive privileges given to inventors by countries through their legal systems for a fixed length of time to prevent others from profiting from the patent holder’s innovation. Patent applications include claims that define the scope of the coverage. Patent claims are usually written to cover more than just the exact copying of the inventor’s work.

However the patent system does not explicitly separate these categories, trademarks can be classified into three groups. A product patent protects the product as a whole. A mechanical, biochemical, or biological object, substance, or mixture is usually referred to as an ‘output’ (as distinct from a device or electrical circuit). A patent that establishes rights over a commodity covers all of the product’s applications.

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A patent on a technique or process is known as a process patent. This refers to a process as well as what is immediately generated as a result of the process. It does not violate a patent if a product is manufactured using a technique that is not authorized by the patent. The use patent protects a product’s use for a certain purpose; only that use is covered by the patent.


Concerns about DNA patenting’s ethical implications

Following the lead of biotech patent holders, exciting inventions in the field of biotechnology have been created in recent years. Companies that have made significant investments in the field of biotechnology have realized the value of securing and maintaining their intellectual property rights, as well as several ethical concerns about the patent element have arisen as a result.

Ordinary folks are caught amid this argument, frequently uneasy with the concept that something as essential as a gene may be copyrighted but also anxious to see new therapies.

The argument put up against biological patenting would be that genes are “natural products” and so should be unrestricted. A “products of nature” theory has been acknowledged by the courts, and it has been used to deny several patent applications.

However, a refute has emerged: even a natural product can be copyrighted if an inventor develops a novel purification or collection technique that makes material available in previously unknown quantities or purity. Adrenaline as well as refined Vitamin B1 are two examples of patents from this century.

The genetically modified bacteria that was the county court in America in the matter of Diamond v Chakrabarty fun is the most well-known instance of a live creature that was given a license. The US Supreme Court upheld the patent award in a 5-4 ruling, with US Chief Justice Burger famously commenting that “everything under the sun that is produced by man is suitable for patenting.” Yeasts, infections, and cell lines are among the other biological creatures that have been patented.

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One explanation is that extracting a gene for medicinal purposes is not as simple as removing it from the body. The “genes” that scientists have patented bear just a passing resemblance to genes found in nature.

The elegance of this work (i.e. gene inventing) is cited by proponents of gene patents to argue that scientists are not given ownership rights merely because they stumble upon naturally occurring phenomena, but also because they are employing complex techniques to try to influence nature in the centre of social goals.

The third argument made opposing D.N.A patenting is that it raises the cost of vital items and makes them less accessible.

Patents, according to the biotech sector, are required for the development of new, life-saving technology. Patents, in reality, allow corporations to build a monopoly on a product, allowing for an artificially high price. As a result, many people who require items such as medications are unable to afford them.

The human genome has 3.5 billion bases. The genetic code is a single sentence:… and so on, filling 500,000 pages with various features of a telephone directory.

When the human genome is sequenced, it will have a profound impact on health, science, human fertility, antiquities, genealogy, the insurance industry, and human civilization as a whole. We will be able to identify exactly whatever it is that makes us human once we have a better understanding of the human genome, which is the way of life. The code may hold the key to curing cancer, cardiovascular disease, and a slew of other inherited human flaws.

Sequencing the human genome will be extremely beneficial to the human species, since it will lead to a treatment for AIDS and, maybe, the eradication of all illnesses that affect humans.

As a result, we can conclude that genomics represents the future of the whole fresh set of pharmaceutical firms that will produce thousands of individually customized medications, requiring billions of dollars to spend in these complicated studies. Where is this money going to come from? Obviously, from the individuals who will profit from the findings of this study. In terms of the high cost of life-saving technology, it has been noticed that many pharmaceutical corporations sell these medications at a considerably lower cost than previously thought.

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A prohibition on patenting genetic data is both impracticable and unachievable, and stricter restrictions on the conditions within which such patents are issued are required.

As previously stated, critics of the private sector’s monopoly over biotechnology sometimes argue that no patents should be awarded on DNA sequences since such lengths of DNA are ‘naturally’ and hence cannot be considered innovations. An equally compelling ethical case is made that if the genetic code – and all of its contents – belongs to anybody, it should be shared by all of humanity.

The ultimate form of “biopiracy” involves staking rights to the sequencing that make up specific genes, even if they were previously unknown.

Regrettably, such a worldview may appear to be utopian. We live in a world where civilization already has decided that some types of things can be copyrighted through patent laws. A genetic code that is a key component of a revolutionary diagnostic test for an illness, for instance, would be a probable candidate.

However, this does not rule out the possibility of taking action against DNA patents.

In the long term, a gene patent must only be awarded if the social advantage expected to result from understanding the gene’s genetic coding can be clearly described. Patents on genetic sequences should no longer offer all of the sequence’s conceivable applications, some of which may be undiscovered. In this context, it is proposed that patents must meet the criterion of not violating morals or the ‘order public,’ and that legal practitioners should obtain general ethical counsel from appropriate authorities as needed.

DNA copyrights should be “more the exception than the norm,” according to the Nuffield panel.


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