Intellectual Property and Biotechnology

Intellectual Property and Biotechnology

Biological Inventions

Matthew Rimmer

This book documents and evaluates the dramatic expansion of intellectual property law to accommodate various forms of biotechnology from micro-organisms, plants, and animals to human genes and stem cells. It makes a unique theoretical contribution to the controversial public debate over the commercialization of biological inventions.

Chapter 8: The Alchemy of Junk: Patent Law and Non-Coding DNA

Matthew Rimmer

Subjects: environment, biotechnology, law - academic, biotechnology and pharmaceutical law, intellectual property law


Genius of Junk is the story of how Malcolm Simons turned Junk into gold, enflaming one of the greatest controversies of our time – the control and ownership of our genetic material. (‘Genius of Junk’, Catalyst, Australian Broadcasting Corporation)1 GeneType was founded in 1989 by immunologist Dr Malcolm Simons and medical practitioner Dr Mervyn Jacobson. Their website provides this foundation story: [Simons and Jacobson] resolved to prove the non-coding (‘junk’ DNA) region of the human HLA gene complex [the human leukocyte antigen system] on Chromosome 6 is in reality not ‘junk’ but in fact a valuable and highly ordered reservoir of useful genetic information, largely overlooked by the rest of the world. The commercial mission then evolved that GeneType would seek exclusive ownership over access to this important genetic information and, ultimately, to exploit it globally for profit.2 Genetic Technologies Limited (GTG) was the result of a merger in 2000 between the original holding company, the private Swiss-owned GeneType AG, and a publicly listed Australian company, Duketon Goldfields Limited. After the corporate restructuring, GTG set a new goal of conversion to a biotechnology company. GTG was able to obtain broad patents on a range of scientific inventions arising out of the work of Malcolm Simons. Most significantly, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) awarded US Patent No. 5 612 179 to GTG for an invention entitled ‘Intron sequence analysis method for detection of adjacent and remote locus alleles as haplotypes.’3 Furthermore, the...

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