Patenting DNA: Everything You Need to Know

Patenting DNA in the United States and Europe is allowed as long as fulfill specific requirements highlighted DNA sequencing.3 min read

DNA Patenting in the United States

On June 13, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court made a historic decision regarding intellectual property. Since DNA is a part of nature, it cannot be patented. You can only patent synthesized genes.

Since the 1990s, the biotechnological industry has undergone an increase in patent filing, especially those involving genetics. That's due to the interest in raising capital. One of the biggest issues involving genetics involves genetic variation or mutation.

The Patent System

The patent system promotes innovation by giving inventors exclusive rights. They can use their inventions for a specific timeframe. The patent holder can give others permission to use the invention by issuing a license. In return, the patent holder receives ongoing royalty collections.

Some scientists have an issue with patents and other intellectual property protections. That's due to basic logic dictating that science advances faster if other researchers have free access to information. However, exclusive rights to intellectual property are needed for investments in research and development.

In the United States and Europe, you can patent genes if you fulfill other requirements, such as isolating the gene and showing there's a nucleotide sequence. Treating a DNA sequence as a complex chemical is eligible for a patent if you produce recombinant drugs and vaccines with it.

Historical Precedent

The basis for patenting human genes began in 1980 thanks to the case of Diamond v. Chakrabarty. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people could manufacture living organisms because they didn't occur naturally. Combined with patenting chemical compounds, this made it possible for biotechnology companies to patent human genes.

The Patenting of DNA

For more than two decades, there's been an increase in biotechnology growth. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) realizes that those in the biotechnology community have concerns about how DNA-based patents affect the industry.

Some bioinformatics businesses are working on a proprietary sequence database, while certain pharmaceutical companies are creating public databases about sequence information. There's some concern that patents shouldn't go to these new discoveries and that a newer form of intellectual property protection is necessary.