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November 24, 2004

DNA Patenting

JAMA. 2004;292(20):2522-2523. doi:10.1001/jama.292.20.2522

Owning the Genome is a classic work of analytic bioethics. In an articulate and readable analysis, Resnik makes use of analytic tools of bioethics and draws on more than a decade of concentrated work on the law and economics.

The author concludes that there are good deontological grounds to prohibit patenting of a whole human genome, an embryo, or a human being, and that patents on part of a genome should not be equated with proprietary rights over these entities. He asserts that the patent system is capable of handling the remaining ethical issues without fundamental changes or major legislation. Fourteen other recommendations relate to patent decisions, courts, consumer actions, assessing extensions of patents, and commodification. Resnik considers it reasonable to grant patent holders exclusive control over new DNA sequences, isolated and purified sequences, and natural methods or techniques used to achieve specific results. However, these patents should not grant control over naturally occurring sequences or processes, which remain in the public domain.

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