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Weighing in on the Pros and Cons of Gene Patenting

Pros and Cons of Gene Patenting
Gene patenting is quite common in the medical field today, however, it is still surrounded by many controversies. Here, we will discuss what is gene patenting and what are its positive and negative aspects.
Niharika Arya
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
Did you know?
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted thousands of patents on human genes. Till now, about 20 percent of our genes are patented.
A gene patent can be done on a specific sequence of the gene, its chemical composition, or the method to process or obtain it. Natural genes cannot be patented. Only the ones which are artificially prepared or are transformed into something useful and new, can be patented. The criteria of patenting any gene is that the DNA should be isolated and purified, after which, it is modified and should possess some different and new qualities. It should also have an application. The major difference between the natural gene and the new gene is that the new created one should be capable of doing things which are not possible with a natural gene. The new gene can be further used for vaccines and other therapeutic processes.

The patent is done for limited period of time which is usually 20 years. Before granting the patent, the company should provide all the details, including the biological detail and structure of the gene to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). They may even take 3 years to issue the patent. Once they get the patent, they need to submit the invention in one of the 26 worldwide culture depositories. Though gene patenting is quite common nowadays, it is still under huge controversy. Following are some of the gene patenting pros and cons that will help you to understand why gene patenting is under controversy.
Pros of Gene Patenting
Doctor researching about genes
✔ The most common and well-known benefit of patenting gene is to encourage research and development in the private sector. By this, the companies try their best to get a better sequence and work harder towards the welfare of the society.

✔ There is no conflict between the invention of a gene by two companies. It also saves the efforts of two companies working on the same concept at the same time.
✔ Reward and recognition is given to the right company for their efforts, as the gene is patented on their name, and no one else can use the same sequence in their experiments.

✔ After getting the patent, people can know about the invention and can try to make improvements and development in the same area.

✔ Illegal use of the new sequence can be avoided once the invention gets patented.

✔ Inventors invest on the patented gene which solves the financial problems to carry on the research and development work. It is of great advantage to small companies.
Cons of Gene Patenting
Studying about genetic engineering
✘The biggest disadvantage of gene patenting is that, it reserves the right of using the gene in research and development only to the company on which the patent is registered. This hinders research and badly misses out the potential of other companies from making some great and important inventions.
✘Monopolization of the gene is the second concern. Companies holding the patent may or may not allow other companies to work on the gene. If they reject, then no company can work on it. This results monopoly of one company over the gene.

✘Delay in getting the results. If a patient wants a test to be done on a patented gene, the samples will be sent only to the company which has the patent rights. This slows down the process and the patient will have to suffer the inconvenience, which may even cost him his life.
✘The patent may be granted after 1 to 3 years from the date of application, and till then, the gene sequence is kept secret. There is a possibility that some other companies may be working on the same gene. This may lead to loss of capital and time for the others.
✘ Patented gene adds up the cost of the drug because of the royalty, which directly affect the consumers. Sometimes, a single genome sequence may be patented in several ways like EST (expressed sequence tag), SNP (single nucleotide polymorphisms), and a gene. This also increases the royalty, as it is then paid to each patent holder, which again increase the cost of the drug.
All the researched work and the patents are deposited in the GenBank (a public database). This helps them to avoid overlapping of ideas and inventions.
To conclude, we can say that gene patenting should be one of the ways to help the mankind rather than a way to make huge profits. There are many people who actually need improved version of the genes to fight against many diseases. So, instead of jumping in the race to earn money, welfare of the society should be the first priority.