I support the decisions, but the rationale seems absurd. The proper way to look at is touched upon in Trieste's comment above. The way things seem to have gone down winds up feeling a little meaningless and invokes the mythical man/nature divide.
"[...]human and other genes should not be eligible for patents because they are part of nature." Seems like a horrible reasoning. If I isolate a gene, yes, it is part of nature. If I then tinker with that gene, it is still part of nature. If I craft a synthetic gene de novo
, guess what? It's part of nature. We are part of nature. If a gene is pushed a specific direction by laboratory scientists, or doctors, or farmers, or whomever; there is no real difference than if it arrived at that state through thousands of years of environmental pressure. It does not make it special.
The real reason we should not be patenting genes is because we need to operate with an eye towards the health of the species as opposed to corporate or even national interests (a lesson that is nowhere more clear in the emerging sciences of genomics and proteomics). Which is a principle which would not only protect the use of genes that are isolated from living systems, but also those that are engineered.
Under the schema reported on in the article:
However, the government suggested such a change would have limited impact on the biotechnology industry because man-made manipulations of DNA, like methods to create genetically modified crops or gene therapies, could still be patented.
So even if we do engineer
a strain of rice that can feed the world, a company can still patent it and price-gouge. All this article is saying is that if we find
a rice that can feed the world, then no one can patent it. Because the found rice is part of Nature as opposed to a work of Man. Which seems more than a little silly.
The other problem that arises from this is: Without the patents what impetus do companies have to fund research? Which is a tough one. I would say that they could patent and profit from their methodology but not their product. Although that is an off the cuff answer, it seems to work well at other intersections of biology and technology (again I will turn to agriculture, no one can patent wheat, but they can patent their new harvester).
EDIT: As an afterthought, the idea that that an isolated gene is not significantly different than a gene in the body (as the presiding justice ruled) is...misguided, at best. While it may
remain structurally identical, the actual effect of any gene is highly dependent on the proteome derived from the collection of genes including it. Durr, et al.
2004 demonstrated a 40% difference in the gene products of cells in vivo
and in vitro
. The products of a gene in isolation, and its function, differs radically from the gene as a component of the genome. This is yet another way this ruling does not sit will with me.
tl;dr version: This is the right decision. In fact it needs to go even further. However, the reasoning given for it is disturbingly puerile.