A potentially far-reaching story has been lost in the hubbub of daily tragedy here in the United States. The New York Times informs us that our unimpeachable Supreme Court is considering whether patents on human genes are valid.
The Supreme Court is poised to take up the highly charged question of whether human genes can be patented. But another question could trump it: Has the field of genetics moved so far so fast that whatever the court decides, it has come too late to the issue?
The case, which will come before the court on Monday, involves patents held by Myriad Genetics on two human genes, which, when mutated, give a woman a high risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer. The patents give Myriad a monopoly on testing for these mutations, a highly lucrative business...
Opponents of gene patents say no company should have rights to what is essentially part of the human body. They contend that Myriad’s monopoly has impeded medical progress and access to testing — in some cases denying patients their own genetic information.
Fading in importance?
“Events on the ground have overtaken the law,” said Dr. James P. Evans, a professor of genetics and medicine at the University of North Carolina. He said the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision “will be much more ideological than it will be practical.”
For one thing, the Myriad patents at issue are due to expire over the next two years. And experts say a relatively small number of other diagnostic tests or drugs are protected by patents on single genes.
“I don’t think this affects many patents that really matter to companies,” said Robert Cook-Deegan, a professor at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy.
I beg to differ! There is great untapped potential here. If you want to get ahead in this world, you've got to Think Big.
What is this "highly charged" debate about?
The plaintiffs won the first round when Judge Robert W. Sweet of Federal District Court in Manhattan said that isolated DNA was the same as DNA in the body in what really mattered — the genetic information it carries.
But Myriad prevailed at the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, twice, by 2-to-1 decisions. One of the majority opinions said that DNA was a chemical, not an information medium, and that disconnecting DNA from the chromosome changed it enough structurally to qualify for patenting.
The plaintiffs, appealing to the Supreme Court, are challenging this. “Under this rationale, a kidney ‘isolated’ from the body would be patentable, gold ‘isolated’ from a stream would be patentable and leaves ‘isolated’ from trees would be patentable,” they say in their brief.
It goes without saying that "the law" can be interpreted in any way you like, especially if money changes hands.
That said, the questions on the table are Is America still an Ownership Society? Or is that all over now that W is gone?
It seems to me, if we're going to stick with the things that Made America Great, that genes should be patentable, and kidneys and gold and leaves or anything else should also be patentable, just in case they can be "isolated" from their "natural" context. What is this thing called "Nature" anyway?
And if we go that way, which seems like a no-brainer to me, then certain things necessarily fall out of this "ownership" principle like night follows day.
You're using those genes, are you not? You're walking around, eating, drinking, fucking, sleeping, and so on. All that "living" you're doing is made possible by your genes. You wouldn't be able to make do without them.
But this looks like a straightforward case of patent infringement to me because various corporations have exclusive rights to the genes you're using, and you have not sought their permission to use those genes. Such permission might be granted, for a price.
So the pertinent questions become what would be a "fair price" for you being allowed to walk around in your own body? And to whom do you send the annual payment?
America can be Great Again, but only if we follow the Principles & Practices which made it great from the start.