Landmark Trial About Patenting Humans Begins Today

For Immediate Release

Contact: 
Eric Hoffman, 202-222-0747, ehoffman@foe.org
Kelly Trout, 202-222-0722, ktrout@foe.org

Landmark Trial About Patenting Humans Begins Today

NEW YORK - The
American Civil Liberties Union’s challenge of patents on two human
genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer goes to
trial here today.

 
Around 20 percent of the human
genome has been patented by private interests. The trial, which begins
today, seeks a ruling on whether such patents violate the Patent Act
and the Constitution. The defendant, Myriad Genetics, holds the patents
to two human genes and charges $3,000 for its tests to determine
whether the genes are present in individuals. These patents prevent
other researchers from exploring connections between these genes and
breast and ovarian cancer, or to come up with more effective and
affordable tests.
 
Eric Hoffman, genetic engineering policy campaigner for Friends of the Earth, praised the ACLU for bringing the case to trial.
 
“Genetic material is the basis for
all life. It has existed since the beginning of the living world,”
Hoffman said. “The human genome is shared by all human beings, varying
by only a fraction of a percent between people. This makes human
genetic material a common good. Scientists are only beginning to
understand the complexity of the human genome and by granting ownership
over genes, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has limited the
ability of scientists and health researchers to learn more about our
bodies. This limits progress in fields that have the potential to
benefit the health of all people.”
 
The trial beginning today is just
one challenge confronting the corporations that are patenting human
genes. Federal legislation, the “Genomic Research and Accessibility
Act,” is soon expected to be introduced by Representative Xavier
Becerra (D-CA). This bill prohibits the patenting of naturally
occurring genes (nucleotide sequences), their functions, and their
naturally occurring products, which the United States Patent and Trade
Office has permitted since 1994.
 
“The Patent Office has erred in
allowing corporations to patent parts of our bodies. We welcome
Representative Becerra’s efforts to change this,” Hoffman said.
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Friends of the Earth is the U.S. voice of the world's largest grassroots environmental network, with member groups in 77 countries. Since 1969, Friends of the Earth has fought to create a more healthy, just world.

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