Editorials

Patenting gene sequences

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.312.7036.926 (Published 13 April 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:926
  1. Arthur L Caplan,
  2. Jon Merz
  1. Professor Professor Center for Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania, 3400 Market St, Suite 320, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA

    Not in the best interests of science or society

    The American biotechnology industry was shocked when social activist Jeremy Rifkin organised a petition drive last year to stir religious opposition to any patents on “the rich genetic resources of the Earth's biological commons,” including most especially human genes.1 By September he had secured the signatures of 186 Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim American religious leaders on a petition calling for a ban on biological patents. The industry responded with a strongly worded white paper on the importance of allowing patents for human genes, which is now being circulated widely among American religious scholars.

    But despite the religious battleground, America's discussion of patents, outside theological circles, is notably secular. It is conducted primarily in terms of prior legal precedents and the importance of patent protection to further private sector funding and research. This is reflected in the fight that has erupted between two behemoths in the pharmaceutical community.

    SmithKline Beecham has formed a consortium with an American company, Human Genome Sciences, to map, …

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