How Are 20% of Human Genes Patented?

John Sulston, along with Sarah Chan and John Harris, write that scientific process is being stymied due to excessive ownership of scientific intellectual property. One of the more troubling statistics? Private companies have patented nearly 20% of human genes.

For example, it is estimated that some 20% of individual human genes have been patented already or have been filed for patenting. As a result, research on certain genes is largely restricted to the companies that hold the patents, and tests involving them are marketed at prohibitive prices. We believe that this poses a very real danger to the development of science for the public good.

Essentially, if any group wants to conduct research on certain types of genes, they have to pay the patent holder to formally carry out the experiment. And then, of course, there are the pharmaceutical companies, who will buy up expiring patents to prevent potential competitors from infringing on the market territory of their status quo drug.

All of this, according to Sulston and co., means we're limiting the best possible scientific breakthroughs. Instead, we're stuck waiting for the ones which prove most profitable. That sucks. [Guardian via Open Science]

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