Designer Genes?

Can we patent life?

Yesterday the Supreme Court handed down a big, bold ruling that companies can patent synthetic DNA but not DNA that occurs in nature. So your own genes are yours, but “synthetic” genes—sets of base-pairs assembled in a lab—are patentable.

The ruling was unanimous, so it’s unlikely to be overturned. It draws on the principle that nature can’t be patented, irrespective of how much work may have been done. Normally, economists discuss trade-offs: weaker intellectual property rights could impede innovation. But there is a long tradition of biomedical research for the public good. When Jonas Salk’s polio virus proved successful, he noted—amid all the public rejoicing—“There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

What a difference 50 years makes! It had been estimated that 20 percent of the human genome may have been patented. Those patent-holders were looking forward to revenues or royalties that are now threatened. This could affect research both ways: scientists can now investigate naturally-occurring phenomena without worrying that they’re running into a briar patch of patent liability.

You can’t patent the sun, but you can patent solar cells. There’s still plenty of incentive to continue this work.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA

Chief Investment Officer

By | 2013-06-14T10:38:20+00:00 June 14th, 2013|Global Market Update|0 Comments

About the Author:

Mr. Tengdin is the Chief Investment Officer at Charter Trust Company and author of “The Global Market Update”. The audio version of each post can be heard on radio stations throughout New England every weekday. Mr. Tengdin graduated from Dartmouth College, Magna Cum Laude. He received his Master of Arts from Trinity Divinity School, Magna Cum Laude and received his Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation in 1992. Mr. Tengdin has been managing investment portfolios for over 30 years, working for Bank of Boston, State Street Global Advisors, Citibank – Tunisia, and Banknorth Group. Throughout his career, Mr. Tengdin has emphasized helping clients manage their financial risks in difficult environments where they can profit from investing in diverse assets in diverse settings. - Leave a comment if you have any questions—I read them all! - And Follow me on Twitter @GlobalMarketUpd

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