The danger of letting corporations patent human genes is that they can use the monopoly created by patents to deny access to diagnostic and therapeutic treatments to those who can’t pay a premium. Patents on human genes also choke off a patient’s ability to get a second opinion (before, say, removing ovaries or a prostate) and close off scientific research by other corporations or academic institutions.
The decision — which is sure to be appealed — has raised dire warnings from some corners of the pharmaceutical and venture capitalist sectors, as well as from the patent bar. They argue that patents encourage research and innovation by making it profitable for corporations to engage in the financially risky business of developing new diagnostic tools and therapies, and warn that the Court’s decision will thus hinder innovation.
But this case is different. It’s not about denying corporations the right to patent specific tests, methods, or drugs. These are inventions that deserve and will continue to receive patent protection. Indeed, the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to award patents in order to promote the “progress of science and the useful arts, by securing, for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their writings and discoveries.”