My company Avidity has prospered for 15+ years because we have a technology that is protected by patent. We probably would not exist today, would not employ scientists, and would not create the products that allow researchers to easily employ our technology if it were not for our patents.
Yet, I strongly believe that patenting of genes is wrong: It’s bad for patients, it’s bad for companies, it’s bad for society, and it’s bad for fundamental research. One of the requirements for a patent is the inventive step. The ACLU argued that the patenting of genes lacks an inventive step. A discovery is not an invention. A discovery is an understanding of what already exists around us. The best of scientific discovery changes the way we think about our world and our place and role in it. The discovery creates nothing other than a different way to see the world.
The gene patents thwart innovation. They do not protect innovation. My personal experience in creating rapid diagnostics in the food safety arena teaches me that these gene patents discourage innovation that could greatly benefit society and save lives. A platform technology that one of my companies employs is novel. There is an inventive step. Yet, even though rRNA has been used for many years as a powerful tool to identify microbes, this tool is not available to this company because of patents on the rRNA sequences discovered by trolling nucleic acid databases.
Society would be much better served if companies competed instead on the innovations and strengths of their platforms: Cheaper, faster, or more sensitive assays. Let’s hope that the Supreme Court rights this wrong.