Updated on 24 June 2013
What have been the most history human gene patenting cases in the last three decades?
As of 2013, about 3,000-to-5,000 patents on human genes have been granted in the US. The obvious reason why patenting of human genes stirs a raging controversy every time that it comes to light is because it seems odd to patent an universal entity like a gene.
A closer look at the time when patenting began would reveal many cases where calls for prohibition against patenting certain subject matter have led to controversy. Most often than not, the allegations in such cases are that the patents pose a threat to biomedical research and public health.
It was in December 1980 that the first patent on a recombinant DNA method was granted. The patent, shared by Stanford University and the University of California, laid the groundwork for using cells to produce useful proteins and turning them into valuable drugs.
In the US alone, an estimated 47,000 patents making various claims on DNA or RNA have been granted. It was in the mid-1990s when DNA-related patents recorded maximum growth.
Case I - Diamond v Chakrabarty
This case was fought between petitioner Ms Sidney Diamond, commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, US, vs respondents Mr Ananda Chakrabarty and others, from 1972-to-1980. The bone of contention in the case was ‘Whether genetically modified organisms be patented?'
In 1972, genetic engineer Mr Ananda Mohan Chakrabarty working at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, US, filed a patent on a bacterium, that was capable of breaking down crude oil. Mr Chakrabarty had proposed that the invention was novel and potentially useful in cleaning up oil spills. The US Patent and Trademark Office rejected the application claiming that living things, as products of nature and not artifice, could not be patented. Mr Chakrabarty appealed and the decision was reversed by the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals. Ms Sidney Diamond, commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, asked the US Supreme Court to consider the case.