Main   Terms   People   Interviews   Resources   Events

Should Genes Be Patented?

Some philosophical questions relevant to patenting DNA are: Should intellectual knowledge regarding natural processes in principle be patentable? Does witnessing an existing natural phenomenon in itself warrant patent protection for the witness? Should an astronomer be able to patent every new galaxy he or she discovers? Someone like Justice Douglas would answer no. Writing for the majority in the 1948 U.S. Supreme Court case of Funk Brothers Seed Co. v. Kalo Inoculant Co., he wrote: “Patents cannot issue for the discovery of the phenomena of nature. . . . [Such] are manifestations of laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none.”R. David Cole, "Genetic Predestination?" Dialog, 33:1 (Winter 1994) 21.

Are cDNAs a natural phenomenon or a human invention? The cDNA does not occur naturally, and is not a gene per se. Rather, it is a copy version of a gene with the introns edited out. It is coded into messenger RNA by the process that reads the raw cellular DNA. This fact leads to an interesting double-mindedness on the part of Daniel Kevles, historian of science, and Leroy Hood, molecular geneticist. On the one hand, they argue that “since it can be physically realized by a devising of human beings, using the enzyme reverse transcriptase, it is patentable.” On the other hand, Kevles and Hood are troubled. “If anything is literally a common birthright of human beings, it is the human genome. It would thus seem that if anything should be avoided in the genomic political economy, it is a war of patents and commerce over the operational elements of that birthright.”Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New York: Oxford, 1976, rev. 1989).

In sum, cDNAs may prove patentable on the grounds that they are the product of a humanly devised process of gaining intellectual knowledge. But at the present moment this appears inappropriate, because the only value of cDNAs is that they tell us what is in the original DNA. As long as the Douglas principle holds that processes already occurring in nature are exempt, the human genome itself will not become patentable.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Ted Peters

Topic Sets Available

AAAS Report on Stem-Cells

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Becoming Human: Brain, Mind, Emergence
Big Bang Cosmology and Theology (GHC)
Cosmic Questions Interviews

Cosmos and Creator
Creativity, Spirituality and Computing Technologies
CTNS Content Home
Darwin: A Friend to Religion?
Demystifying Information Technology
Divine Action (GHC)
Dreams and Dreaming: Neuroscientific and Religious Visions'
E. Coli at the No Free Lunchroom
Engaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
Evangelical Atheism: a response to Richard Dawkins
Ecology and Christian Theology
Evolution: What Should We Teach Our Children in Our Schools?
Evolution and Providence
Evolution and Creation Survey
Evolution and Theology (GHC)
Evolution, Creation, and Semiotics

The Expelled Controversy
Faith and Reason: An Introduction
Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century

Francisco Ayala on Evolution

From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions
Genetic Engineering and Food

Genetics and Ethics
Genetic Technologies - the Radical Revision of Human Existence and the Natural World

Genomics, Nanotechnology and Robotics
Getting Mind out of Meat
God and Creation: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Big Bang Cosmology
God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion
God the Spirit - and Natural Science
Historical Examples of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)
History of Creationism
Intelligent Design Coming Clean

Issues for the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies
Jean Vanier of L'Arche
Nano-Technology and Nano-ethics
Natural Science and Christian Theology - A Select Bibliography
Neuroscience and the Soul
Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
Quantum Mechanics and Theology (GHC)
Questions that Shape Our Future
Reductionism (GHC)
Reintroducing Teleology Into Science
Science and Suffering

Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (CTNS/Vatican Series)

Space Exploration and Positive Stewardship

Stem-Cell Debate: Ethical Questions
Stem-Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

Stem-Cell Questions
Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design...
Theology and Science: Current Issues and Future Directions
Unscientific America: How science illiteracy threatens our future
Will ET End Religion?

Current Stats: topics: >2600, links: >300,000, video: 200 hours.