Authored by: Shobita Parthasarathy

Handbook of Genomics, Health and Society

Print publication date:  April  2018
Online publication date:  April  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138211957
eBook ISBN: 9781315451695
Adobe ISBN:


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Biotechnology has challenged patent systems since the development of recombinant DNA (rDNA) in the 1970s (Hughes, 2011; Parthasarathy, 2017). Were genetically engineered organisms unpatentable discoveries of natural phenomena or patentable technologies? What about genes and other strings of DNA that could be identified, sequenced, and linked to major diseases? Did their status as pieces, or forms, of life matter? Were patent systems responsible for addressing ethical, social, and environmental concerns? Despite international agreements designed to harmonize patent law, countries have approached these questions in multiple ways. Focusing on the US and European patent systems, this chapter argues that this variability stems not merely from differences in law, but also in political culture, ideology, and history. As the US and Europe made different patent decisions, they developed different understandings of the patent system’s role, as well as its appropriate knowledge and expertise. These differences will continue to matter and shape genomic futures.

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