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Patent System Fosters Eugenics – What Next?

USA TODAY ran a provocative article yesterday (April 26, 2011) on the “dark past” of the respected journal Annals of Human Genetics, in which its editor, Andres Linares did a mea culpa for the role of the journal, founded in 1925 and then called Annals of Eugenics, in promoting racial purity and preventing inferior races and social classes from reproducing. I was startled to find that the patent system was tied into the story as a part of “modern genetics today [that] still suffers from the same blind spots that fostered eugenics.” Along with the evils of “[s]tudies that ascribe genes to explain complex character traits” that are promoted by geneticists, are:

“Scientists seeking patent rights over their patient’s genes, a hotly contested area of current law because of the argument patent rights don’t extend to natural products.”

Apart from the fact that this could have been taken from an ACLU Myriad press release, what does the patent system have to do with eugenics? A better choice for criticism might have been: Scientists seeking to develop therapies for genetic disorders by introducing repaired DNA into a patient’s genome - although the “gene therapies” under trial  today are not experiments in eugenics, any more than is patenting a “healthy” or a “defective” gene. But, to borrow from  David Letterman, I wouldn’t give the patent system’s problems to a monkey on a rock.

© 2021 Schwegman, Lundberg & Woessner, P.A. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume I, Number 117
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About this Author

Warren Woessner, Registered Patent Attorney, Schwegman Lundberg Law firm
Shareholder

Warren Woessner is a registered patent attorney and a founding shareholder of Schwegman, Lundberg & Woessner. His practice focuses on chemical patent law, including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, vaccines, medical treatments, diagnostics, and biofuels and agricultural chemistry, including related opinion and licensing matters.

Warren received his B.A. in chemistry (1966) from Cornell University, his Ph.D. (organic chemistry, 1971) and his law degree (J.D., cum laude, 1981) from the University of Wisconsin...

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