At the core of who we are is our genetic makeup. As we are learning more about our genome, we are finding out that it is possible to predict outcomes of human health based on how we’ve been made. By predicting these outcomes, we can also formulate genetic treatments that can help to extend or increase the quality of life that every person has. We might also be able to finally find cures for certain diseases that have plagued humanity sent its very start. That’s why patenting genes that are discovered has some advantages and some disadvantages.
The Pros of Patenting Genes
1. Companies can look at specific genes without competition.
In a perfect world, medical science wouldn’t have any profit or loss factor to it. This isn’t a perfect world. Companies need to make money. By being able to patent a gene, a company could look at those genes without competition or worry and this could allow for more new discoveries because there isn’t such a rush to find profits.
2. It encourages private industry development of medical research.
Patents in every other industry help to support innovation because it protects the rights of the inventor or discover. In patenting a gene sequence, there would be an incentive of having private industry development for additional medical research because discoveries would be protected and create a level of profitability.
3. There would be the option for personal investment into research and development.
Patents provide a legitimate investment opportunity for people. By investing into specific genes patents, research could be paid through seed capital and then returns could be paid on the sale of treatments that are generated by that research. It generally costs several million dollars just to bring one new drug to today’s market. That is money that genetic research companies don’t have right now.
The Cons of Patenting Genes
1. Patents hinder public research.
If you have 10 people studying something instead of one person, there is a greater chance for a breakthrough. Patents can give intellectual property rights for up to 20 years in some cases, which would mean that research could potentially be stopped in certain areas. If genetic researchers don’t find profitable solutions from their patents, they could stop doing any research on it and no one else would be allowed to do any research until the 20 years has expired without permission.
2. It could lead to monopolies.
Companies that would hold a gene patent would actually hold the exclusive right to allow or forbid other organizations from accessing information about that gene. It is very foreseeable to see how one company could create a monopoly through genetic patents that could create a new culture of medical treatments that would be available to only one class in a society.
3. They would slow down medical results.
Let’s say a patient needs a specific genetic test. Under gene patents, the tests that are conducted at the doctor’s office would need to be sent to the company that owns the patent on the gene. This could slow down results, which would then slow down medical care.
The question that we have in regards to patenting genes is whether it is more profitable to allow one company access exclusively to genetic information or is it more profitable to put more eyes on a problem and spread the money around. There are definite advantages to protecting research, but there is also a societal component that must be weighed. The best solution in this instance is probably somewhere in the middle.