Our Genes, Their Secrets

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The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling last Thursday, barring patents on human genes, was a wise and balanced decision that clears away a major barrier to innovation in the areas of biotechnology, drug development and medical diagnostics. But the decision is just a first step toward finding the right balance between protecting legitimate intellectual property and securing an open future for personalized medicine.


In Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, the court ruled that “a naturally occurring segment” of DNA — genetic material that has been isolated from human chromosomes — cannot be patented because it is simply a product of nature. For policy wonks, the case was a David-and-Goliath fight, one of the most important patent cases in a decade, with an outcome sure to affect the $100 billion biotechnology industry, no matter how it was decided.

But while the Supreme Court’s ruling has been welcomed enthusiastically by many, the Myriad case has been only a modest victory for the advocates of genetic-data sharing. Indeed, none of the underlying tensions have truly been resolved: we still need to find a way for the biotech industry to keep a competitive advantage without endangering the welfare of patients and slowing medication innovation.

In reality, gene patents were only one part of the problem. A more vexing, and still pressing, issue is how companies withhold genetic data as a trade secret.

Written By: Eleonore Pauwels
continue to source article at nytimes.com

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  1. They could just ask the Chinese military for the data – apparently they’ve accumulating all the secret data from everywhere in the world. Chinese researchers wouldn’t have much use for this kind of information because it won’t be relevant to Chinese traditional medicine, acupuncture and research into powdered rhino horns. They’d probably give it away for free if researchers agreed to let them know if they find anything relevant to the pharmacology of rhino horns.

    NSA also apparently already has all the other secret data in the world that the Chinese military weren’t interested in. It might be possible to ask the NSA for the data, indirectly via Wikileaks.

  2. Attempting to patent discoveries is one way tell the difference between:-

    “We still need to find a way for the biotech industry to keep a competitive advantage without endangering the welfare of patients and slowing medication innovation.”

    and

    “… need to find ways for the biotech industry to maximise their profits.”

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