Gene patents

Genes are part of our common human heritageAbout 20 percent of the human genome has already been patented by corporations and scientists, granting companies ownership and sole access to these fundamental building blocks of life. Gene patents are dangerous and unfair: They give corporations monopolies over potentially live-saving research and treatments that are based on pieces of genetic code that have evolved naturally over millenia and are part of our common human heritage.

Scientists are only beginning to understand the complexity of the human genome. Research to date indicates that many common diseases, including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's, correlate with a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

DNA sequencePatents on genes limit the ability of scientists and health researchers to learn more about gene-to-disease correlations and limit progress in fields that could benefit the health of all people, resulting in increasing prices for tests, impediments to alternative research and barriers to patients' access to potentially life-saving technology. As we've seen in the case of patents on two genes that correlate to increased risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer, gene patents can also prevent patients from receiving second opinions on genetic diagnostic tests.

Friends of the Earth is working to ban the patenting of human genes and all genes that occur naturally on our planet. Our current focus is passing a bill in Congress that would end this practices in the U.S. by reinforcing a fundamental principle of patent law -- that patents only apply to new, non-obvious products that do not already occur in nature. Decoding genetic material is akin to figuring out the composition of water. Both water and genetic material are common goods that occur naturally. Neither should be patentable.

In a June 2013 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that human genes are may no longer be patented, invalidating the existing patents for over 20 percent of the human genome. Friends of the Earth, represented by the Center for Food Safety, had submitted an amici brief arguing that naturally occurring genes, DNA and cDNA must not be patentable. This marked a huge victory on the issue only apply to new, non-obvious products that do not already occurring in nature. 

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