State of Innovation

Patents and Innovation Economics

Patenting Life

Deadly Monopolies: The Shocking Corporate Takeover of Life Itself–And the Consequences for Your Health and Our Medical Future, by Harriet A. Washington

There have been several books suggesting that you can patent human genes or parts of humans.  The latest is entitled Deadly Monopolies, which appears to be a rehash of David Koepsell’s Who Owns You?: The Corporate Gold-Rush to Patent Your Genes.  The first person to raise this issue was Michael Crichton.  None of these people are patent attorneys and they all misinterpret the claims of patents to be broader than they are.  We know Ms. Washington does not understand patents, because she mislabels them as a monopoly in the title of her book.  Ms. Washington also does not understand property rights.  Patent are property rights and you obtain title to your invention because you created something.  Monopolies are granted based on political decisions.

In Washington’s blog, she suggests that Myriad Genetics has patented a part of John Moore’s body.  This is clearly incorrect on its face.  The patent is for an isolated form of a gene that is an indicator of breast cancer.  The critics of gene patents have made this outrageous accusation that a patent covers a part of your body.  With the implication that just by being alive you are violating their patent.  This is complete nonsense, but great propaganda.  It appears that Ms. Washington really adds nothing to the discussion, but is just rehashing points that have already been made and proven wrong.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit when ruling on the Myriad case provided the following insights “Isolation of a DNA sequence is more than separating out impurities: the isolated DNA is a distinct molecule with different physical characteristics than the naturally occurring polymer containing the corresponding sequence in nature.” (P. 11 Slip Opinion – Judge Moore) He further states, “I decline to extend the laws of nature exception to reach entirely manmade sequences of isolated DNA, even if those sequences are inspired by a natural template.” P. 14 Moore.  He further explains the difference between this case and purified vanadium or uranium as, “Given the chemical differences highlighted by Judge Lourie’s opinion and discussed supra, the mere fact that the larger chromosomal polymer includes the same sequence of nucleotides as the smaller isolated DNA is not enough to make it per se a law of nature and remove it from the scope of patentable subject matter.  The actual molecules claimed in this case are therefore not squarely analogous to unpatentable minerals, created by nature without the assistance of man.” P. 15 Moore.  Harriet Washington, seems to have ignored all this information or simple does not understand the science and certainly does not understand the patent law.  I attempted to find out about Washington’s background to determine if she had a scientific background.  The only information I could find was that she had been a medical ethicist at Harvard, but nothing about her education.

While I have not read the book, Deadly Monopolies: The Shocking Corporate Takeover of Life Itself–And the Consequences for Your Health and Our Medical Future, by Harriet A. Washington, all indications are that the author does not understand the science or the law involved in this topic.  Her statements on her blog that gene patents spur profits not cures is example of the shallowness of her research.  See David E. Adelman & Kathryn L. DeAngelis, Patent Metrics: The Mismeasure of Innovation in the Biotech Patent Debate, 85 Tex. L. Rev. 1677, 1681 (2007), as clearly showing biotech patents have resulted in increase innovation.  Washington’s book is not about science, the law, or the truth, it is a propaganda attack on patents, property rights, and the pharmaceutical industry.



November 28, 2011 - Posted by | -Philosophy, Innovation, Patents | , , , , ,

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