20% of your genes are owned by a company

Yes folks, according to a post by Drew Halley at the Singularity Hub blog over 40,000 patents are held by companies on sections of the human genome. This amounts to roughly 20% of our genes that companies think they own just because they identified them.

Now this isn’t something new as companies have been patenting parts of our bodies since 1906 when Adrenalin was first patented and then in 1923 when insulin was patented. The argument from the drug companies has always been that the patents have been for the isolated and purified version of what naturally occurs in our bodies. It is this “isolated and purified” form that the drug and biomedical companies have argued as being “discoveries” and therefor patentable.

This argument got a huge boost in 1998 when Myriad Genetics received several patents covering the genes of the BRCA family. This may not seem like anything too important on its face, that is until you find out that BRCA mutations are the mutations that cause an increase risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and several other types of cancer.

These patents in turn gave Myriad Genetics proprietary rights over the diagnostic tests for these mutations – test that sold for over $3,000 each.

This is only the beginning of the horror stories that can happen if this type of patenting continues, which thankfully in the case of Myriad Genetics has stopped as their patent claims were recently struck down by a district judge. Unfortunately though this hasn’t stopped this patenting movement by drug and biomedical companies and is documented by Dr David Koespell, an attorney and Doctor of Philosophy, in a new book called Who Owns You? The Corporate Gold Rush To Patent Your Genes.

It is this book that apparently now in the process of being adapted into a documentary on the whole gene patenting business by filmmaker Taylor Roesch. While the documentary is still in production Taylor has made a trailer of the upcoming movie available.