THE GMO SCRAPBOOK: AUSTRALIAN HIGH COURT STRIKES DOWN PATENTS ON GENESOctober 16, 2015
If you've been following the whole story of genetic engineering and patent law, particularly with reference to the uses, and abuses, thereof by the GMO "agribusiness sector," then there has been a stunning development from Australia, as indicated in this article shared by many of you:
The significant passages for our high octane speculations of the day are these:
The court based its reasoning (PDF) on the fact that, although an isolated gene such as BRCA1 was "a product of human action, it was the existence of the information stored in the relevant sequences that was an essential element of the invention as claimed." Since the information stored in the DNA as a sequence of nucleotides was a product of nature, it did not require human action to bring it into existence, and therefore could not be patented.
Although that seems a sensible ruling, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry has been fighting against this self-evident logic for years. The view that genes could be patented suffered a major defeat in 2013, when the US Supreme Court struck down Myriad Genetics' patents on the genes BRCA1 and the similar BRCA2. The industry was hoping that a win in Australia could keep alive the idea that genes could be owned by a company in the form of a patent monopoly. The victory by D'Arcy now makes it highly likely that other judges around the world will take the view that genes cannot be patented.
This is a result that will have major practical consequences, and is likely to save thousands of lives. In the past, holders of gene patents were able to stop other companies from offering tests based on them, for example to detect the presence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that were linked with a greater risk of breast and ovarian cancers. This patent monopoly allowed companies like Myriad to charge $3,000 (£2,000) or more for their own tests, potentially placing them out of the reach of those unable to afford this cost, some of whom might then go on to develop cancer because they were not aware of their higher susceptibility, and thus unable to take action to minimise their risks.
There are two obvious implications here from this ruling in Australia, which follows similar US Supreme Court rulings. The most obvious of these is that some of the genetic modifications of crops might also be subject to similar strictures, should cases be brought to the courts, and in the case of GMOs, corporations will now have to spend the money to litigate that specific modifications are exceptions to such guidelines and rulings. This will raise the cost of their products, introducing yet another element of cost-non-effectiveness into the rising body of evidence that GMOs, over time, are not cost effective, as nature adapts to human modifications faster than they can be made. Or to put it "country simple," the rulings are major looming problems for the whole GMO enterprise over the long term. Court "findings" will now have to be made over a whole range of GMO patents. And this will take time, and money, and lots of it, since such findings will have to be filed for and fees paid, on a country-by-country basis: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the USA, Brazil, Argentina, France, ... well, you get the idea. Anywhere where GMOs have been introduced, the right to charge licensing fees will have to be contested and won. Expect IG Farbensanto, Syncrudda, DuPonzanto and other GMO-agrubusiness companies to fight this tooth and nail, and with their customary meanness.
A more subtle implication, however, is how this ruling might transform the realm of genetic therapies and medicine as a whole, for the entire profit motive for the development of such therapies has been undercut. They may, or may not, turn out to be a bad thing, since the development of such therapies might perforce have to move into the public, i.e., the state sector. For fans and advocates of various forms of socialized medicine or national healthcare, this could be a boon. For those who don't trust the Empire any further than they can toss it, it might be the reverse. Time will tell.
In any case, however, the rulings would appear to have sweeping implications for the whole host of bureaucratic and regulatory policies that have been emplaced surrounding GMOs, based as they have been on the assumption of the patentability of genetic modifications.
See you on the flip side...