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Is your body your own?
To try to prevent your body from rejecting the pig cells, the cells will be "modified" with cells from your own immune system. The research and the clinical trial you are considering are quite costly. The costs will be underwritten by a biotechnology company hoping to market and ultimately profit from the treatment. Because you are participating in the experimental phase, it will cost you nothing, but the company plans to patent cell lines derived from your immune cells for future use.
How do you feel about having cells from your body combined with pig cells and patented?
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According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a patent is "a property right granted by the Government of the United States to an inventor to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention…for a limited time [20 years] in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted." The USPTO's criteria for a patent are simple. "The invention must be: useful, new, not obvious, and described in the proper fashion." The goal of the patent system is to induce inventors to disclose their work publicly so that others can build on those discoveries, and so promote innovation. The USPTO states, "The patent system does not exist to benefit the individual inventor, or the companies and individuals that own patents. In a very real sense, the patent system exists to benefit the public."
Moore v. Regents of the University of California (1990) was the first case in the United States to address the issue of who owns the rights to an individual's cells. After being diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 1976, John Moore had blood and bone marrow withdrawn in the course of medical tests. Suspicious of repeated requests to give samples after he had already been cured, Moore discovered that his doctors had actually patented a cell line derived from his cells because Moore's blood contained "unusual and valuable viral antibodies" that were of potentially great commercial value. Moore sued for malpractice and property theft. Moore's doctor argued that because Moore could not turn his own tissue into a useful product, he could not claim property ownership in it. The California Supreme Court found that Moore's doctor had not obtained proper informed consent, but that Moore could not claim property rights over his body.
Look Deeper
Three laws passed in the 1980s—the Patent and Trademark Amendment Act (commonly known as the Bayh-Doyle Act, 1980), the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act (1980) and the Federal Technology Transfer Act (1986)—advanced industry/government relations (and expanded patent law) by encouraging governmental agencies and other educational and nonprofit institutions to interact, and to apply for patents on inventions that had federal funding. In addition, the Bayh-Dole act offers tax incentives to private companies that invest in academic research; the Stevenson-Wydler Act promotes technology transfer by encouraging joint projects among developers, marketers and users of technology; and the Technology Transfer Act lets researchers in government facilities such as the National Institutes of Health patent their inventions and keep up to $150,000 in annual royalties.
Is your body your own?
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"I don't think it's the job of the patent office."
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Did you know?
In the 1980 Diamond v. Chakrabarty case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the first time that living organisms could be patented. In a close and hotly contested decision, the court ruled that a bacterium that was genetically engineered to break down oil spills was a "'manufacture' or 'composition of matter'" that met the criteria for patenting. The majority opinion stated that the court was "without competence" to judge the merits of arguments that warned of dire consequences if life was ruled patentable. Over the last 15 years the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted more than 400 U.S. patents on higher animals, including pigs, cows and sheep, many genetically modified with human genes. Human-cow embryos have been patented, and in 2001, the University of Missouri was granted a patent on a cloning technique that does not rule out the creation of human embryos. The USPTO also allows genes to be patented. Over 20,000 genes, 7,810 of them human genes, have been patented in the U.S.