Gene Cartels

Gene Cartels

Biotech Patents in the Age of Free Trade

Luigi Palombi

Starting with the 13th century, this book explores how patents have been used as an economic protectionist tool, developing and evolving to the point where thousands of patents have been ultimately granted not over inventions, but over isolated or purified biological materials. DNA, invented by no man and once thought to be ‘free to all men and reserved exclusively to none’, has become cartelised in the hands of multinational corporations. The author questions whether the continuing grant of patents can be justified when they are now used to suppress, rather than promote, research and development in the life sciences.

Chapter 9: Gene Wars

Luigi Palombi

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


We don’t think it’s right for someone to decode genomes, perform no research and then be able to make outrageous claims. Spokesman for F Hoffmann-La Roche AG, Die Zeit, 36/20011 In November 2006 Michael Hopkins and other researchers at the University of Sussex published a report entitled The Patenting of Human DNA: Global Trends in Public and Private Sector Activity.2 The study that formed the basis of their report found that between 1980 and 2003 15 000 patent families (which suggests that there are tens of thousands of individual DNA patents) claiming human DNA had been granted around the world. The report’s authors would have found, had their study extended beyond human DNA, many more claiming non-human DNA, and even thousands more again claiming the cellular components involved in the production of naturally occurring proteins. Without any doubt by 2006 virtually anything that was naturally occurring but ‘isolated’ was the subject of a patent giving their owners the legal right exclusively to control their ‘inventions’ for at least 20 years. Undoubtedly the proliferation of patents over such things and the frustrating need to seek patent licences even to undertake basic research prompted a spokesman from F Hoffmann-La Roche AG to criticize those who ‘decode genomes’, but, given that Genentech was then a company which Roche controlled and which had been established in 1976 to do precisely that, the criticism was made either in ignorance or as part of a lie that was designed to elicit sympathy from European...

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