Gene Patenting

‘The issue of gene patenting also invokes ethical considerations. Hundreds of human DNA sequences have already been patented and there are currently 20,000 patents pending at the US patent office. The Human Genome Project, however, does not patent its sequence data, but rather deposits all of its gene maps and gene sequences in public databases, with free and unrestricted access, within 24 hours of completion. Patenting of a gene allows an individual to capitalise on all commercial gains made from that particular gene. Genome companies argue that patenting is necessary to ensure that they receive a fair return on their investment and a share of the commercial profit. Controversy arises as to whether it is ethically correct to allow individuals ownership of a gene sequence. Those opposed to gene patenting argue that the concept is absurd because genes are discoveries rather than inventions and that gene patenting acts as part of  'the race to commodify life'. Both the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Wellcome Trust in the UK have voiced strong concerns about broadly based gene patents and the Trust has asserted it may challenge patent claims it judges may affect adversely the progress of medical research. In 1992, the MRC filed nearly 1000 patents as a defensive measure.’ Your Genome

"I am horrified."James Watson, Co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, on NIH's plans to patent J. Craig Venter's partial genes, Science, 1991

‘There is no coherent government policy [on gene patents] and we need one quick—since the sequence is just pouring out. It would be a big mistake to leave this one to the lawyers.’ David Galas, Science, October 1991

A paper published in the journal Science in 2005 revealed that nearly 20% of human genes have now been patented, mainly by commercial companies. Gene patents allow companies to claim monopolies on future genetic tests and treatments, and may restrict and distort research.’ Genewatch, 2006

‘And he for whom it manifests itself in its adequate idea, dare as little arrogate it to himself as his own, can as little appropriate it either totally or by partition, as he can claim ownership in the breathing air, or make an enclosure in the cope of heaven. He bears witness of it to his own mind, even as he describes life and light: and, with the silence of light, it describes itself and dwells in us only as far as we dwell in it. The truths, which it manifests are such as it alone can manifest, and in all truth it manifests itself.’ Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet

‘9,364 patents relating to the human body filed for so far; covering 126, 672 genes or partial gene sequences.’ Genewatch

‘…vast numbers of patents have been applied for on genetic information. Estimates vary in this contentious area, but Incyte Genomics are widely believed to be the leading patent holders. Their website claims that they hold 513 full gene patents in the US and have filed over 50,000 applications for full or partial genes. Many other companies are following suit, including Human Genome Sciences (112 patents, 7,500 applications) and Celera (6,500 applications). Applications have been made in Europe too, though in thousands rather than tens of thousands.’ BBC Science, 2000

‘The NHS (National Health Service) may no longer be able to afford to carry out an important genetic test for breast cancer, warn doctors and scientists. They say that widespread patenting of human genes threatens to hold back the development of many other tests and treatments.’ BBC News, 2002

‘Realization of the opportunities provided by genomics depends on effective access to the information (such as data about genes, gene variants, haplotypes, protein structures, small molecules and computational models) by a wide range of potential users, including researchers, commercial enterprises, health-care providers, patients and the public. Researchers themselves need maximum access to the data as soon as possible. Use of the information for the development of therapeutic and other products necessarily entails consideration of the complex issues of intellectual property (for example, patenting and licensing) and commercialization. The intellectual property practices, laws and regulations that affect genomics must adhere to the principle of maximizing public benefit, but must also be consistent with more general and longer-established intellectual property principles. Further, because genome research is global, international treaties, laws, regulations, practices, belief systems and cultures also come into play. Without commercialization, most diagnostic and therapeutic advances will not reach the clinical setting, where they can benefit patients. Thus, we need to develop policy options for data access and for patenting, licensing and other intellectual property issues to facilitate the dissemination of genomics data.’ A Vision for the Future of Genomics Research, US National Human Genome Research Institute, 2003

If men are allowed to patent genes, will God sue?

If men are allowed to patent genes, will Nature sue?

Or will their powers and processes exact other ways

of making men pay; reluctant ways they cannot stop.

"The patent system is in danger of not achieving its main goal - to stimulate innovation for the public good.”  Dr Sandy Thomas, Director, Nuffield Council on Bioethics

‘…in 2000, half a million patents lodged to copyright genes from living organisms.’ Genewatch

“The human genome underlies the fundamental unity of all members of the human family, as well as the recognition of their inherent dignity and diversity. In a symbolic sense, it is the heritage of humanity." Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights

Under your sequenced nose, people

Under your sequenced nose, people,

you are being stolen -

gene by gene,

molecule by molecule -

taken apart,

sold as valuable scrap.

Once you were priceless;

like Pharoah’s gold undisturbed,

but always evolving in the dark -

one incorporating many;

seeming inviolable -

yet dreaming thieves.

‘The patenting of genes is the subject of major international debate, around the question of whether genes can be considered novel inventions or merely discoveries, and whether patent application for gene sequences adequately prove practical usefulness. Patent law evolved to protect and encourage technological innovation. But the rise of biotechnology has blurred the boundary between invention and discovery. According to patent law, is it not possible to patent raw DNA sequences. Nor is it is not possible to patent a naturally occurring or conventionally bred new animal or plant variety, nor any part of the human body at any stage of development. However, isolated genes, gene sequences and gene products may be patentable - no distinction is made between DNA and other chemicals. And, where the creation of a new variety of organism involves an 'inventive step', in the laboratory rather than the field, it too may be patentable. British law (under the Patents Act 1977, amended by the Patent Regulations 2000) largely follows the European Regulations and Directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions (98/44/EC). Under these, neither DNA nor raw human genome data can be patented, because they are discoveries and not inventions. However, the Directives accept that the isolation and identification of a specific gene from the body may involve 'inventive steps' to define it chemically and make it available in a way that serves a useful purpose. So a gene can be patented as an isolated sequence, provided its 'inventor' can prove that it satisfies the patent criteria for any invention. It must be novel, not obvious to those working in the same field, and of practical use. Modern automation techniques are increasingly making the inventive step 'obvious'. And, as the Human Genome Project makes all its information public, the claim of novelty is also reducing. The chief argument now revolves around the requirement to specify a practical use for the gene or gene sequence. In the rush to protect future commercial products, thousands of patents have been filed for gene sequences that have only the vaguest potential use specified. The law in Europe and the USA is tightening up on this criterion, demanding that the applicant must prove a substantial practical use, with a real prospect of delivery. The Directive stresses that some developments in genetic engineering are not patentable because they go against accepted moral standards. They include any process for cloning or modifying the germ line genetic identity of a human being; the use of human embryos for industrial and commercial purposes; creating or modifying the genetic identity of animals in ways likely to cause them suffering, without any substantial medical benefit, is also banned.’ Wellcome Trust, 2002

Leaf  Patent

In my palm, the dying leaf,

still practising green chemstries

like the last breaths of a man -

drinking stalk like a fish

in air; unplugged, gasping -

rigor mortis crisping veined skin.

What matter, the leaf dies -

I have made it my subject;

I have patented the leaf,

unfurled from the mother tree’s

seasonal will - damp, fresh as a butterfly -

still shining with wood’s spirit of renewal.

The tree is the instrument of this invention,

but I am the owner -

I have enslaved the tree;

where this leaf rusts, crumbles,

more will come - earning bucks

each time from your admiring eye,

as I dissect its magic chemistries,

unscrew green covers

to mechanisms of light;

one day making food

from air and sun,

free soil -

which I will sell you;

hoping you don’t notice,

stupid Earth failed to take out a patent.

‘Corporate activity in genomics is dependent,t o a large degree, on patents. Living matter has been patentable since 1975 when the US Supreme Court allowed a patent on a groupof oil-digesting microorganisms. Individual plants and animals (as opposed to varieties and breeds) are patentable, too, a position confirmed by European Union legislation passed in 1998. Humans are not patentable, however, and neither are body parts. A patent is, in effect,a deal between the law and an inventor. The inventor gains the right to profit exclusively from his or her invention in return for describing it completely so that others can build on it . A patent thus safeguards against secrecy by ensuring that scientific and technical data circulate freely. In Europe, the discovery of genetic sequences is not patentable. The European Patent Office concluded that simply discovering genes was not useful and, therefore, not patentable. However, if a genetic sequence codes for, say, a medically useful protein, then a patent claim on the sequence would be allowed. In the US, however, many patents have been filed by companies and other organisations covering huge numbers of partial genes. The US Patent andTrademark Office has granted some of these despite being opposed by science funding bodies, the Human Genome Organisation, many European governments and leading politicians.’ Medical Research Council, UK, 2000

Patenting Chaffinches

Instead of bothering much about anything,

I just watched the grumpy chaffinches -

jittery, jostling, jousting - squabbling,

scrapping - flouncy, bouncy, huffing

flutter-bluster - plump bomb bodies

exploding wings, blurred Flamenco

fans, in furious dances - zebra flashes,

cheepity bleepin’-cheep; mass bickers,

detonated scrums, birdy dogfights.       

All hating to be thought so cute -

bandit-masked nut-muggers;

as objects of human smiling

for the bloody business of just staying alive –

confusing their own heads looking every way

at once - for enemies that do not exist -

birds on the verge of nervous breakdown;

neurotic, twitching, schizophrenic –

startling at sounds in their own minds,

invisible animals of prey -

eyes opening everywhere

in the innocent-seeming scheme of things,

even the sparkling stars of frosted gorse,

once the burning yellow iris of a wolf’s eye -

though he sniffed here last a hundred years ago,

his cunning ghost still slinks, hunched,

camouflaged in this dour grey palette -

inhabiting the shepherd’s mad collie,

wearing his teeth. They stay alert -

shattered by noise out of existence;

so dramatically - clappingly gone -

you’d think their quarrelling ghosts would

be left still squabbling at the altar of nuts -

but burring back whole from sky’s blue skin,

like pink rabbits from invisible hats, pouring

from trees onto carpets of seeds - seemingly

none the worse for such total disappearance.

Such a pain, such a crick, having your eyes

on different sides of your nervous spine -

always jerking your neck taking constant snapshots –

my own neck hurt just looking back; when affronted,

one feathery gourmand caught my eye like a pecked nut -

defied me to keep spying, try to take his lion bird’s share;

and it seemed only polite to look back sideways,

with a giant questionmark eye - he didn’t seem

interested to learn, by the way,

it was me that bought his dinner,

nutritionally-balanced feast -

(even approved by the RSPB).

Battling in a desperate heaven

of nuts and crumbs - plenty -

before the hellish Highland night rises,

young witch - each year rejuvenated

by Winter’s elixir, (as Moon hides

her wrinkles in foundation of light) -

glossy, proud and beautiful,

merciless in her diamonds -

black flesh pared to bowled blue bone,

essential sky - skeleton of sky; light’s

blood frozen in star clots, black sockets.

Bloodless, she wears the Moon pinned

where her heart should be - smiles ice

as the Sun smiles light; men have died

in her dark arms, lost in her dumb beauty

on the stone altars of snowy mountains –

her glittering feet print water, shine blades,

as the invisible mouse hand trembles grass;

dressed to the nines, in so much sparkle,

she is seasonal, natural, ethereal royalty.

Hours she lingers, stripping naked trees

to the white bone existing under bark -

mesmerising the humble fields

of common staring grass; rigid,

overawed, until rigor mortis stiffens spines -

too late feeling their bright green blood freeze

into silver skeletons, as simple as swords -

each worked perfectly, blades kissed solid

by her devastating beauty, cruel, clear lips;

tiny sharp cries muffle - grasses wrapping

themselves in furry white sleeves to insulate -

nurse knowledge of how they were once green;

how they made themselves green - mechanisms

and vibrant chemistry already seeming a dream.   

Until at last she has walked the sky, pole to pole

to meet the season; white Winter, lean and mean

as she likes him - reaching under her shining skirts -

he has entered and claimed the earth, offers its corpse,

his gift, like a hunter, to his mate, (but earth, though

it has lost all feeling, is still secretly alive, comatose).

High, high, winter and night meet -

icy breath gauzing her jewel Moon,

lighting her boney blue breast,

wreathing the pricking stars -

silent deathly passion, so long

even planets close their eyes -

Venus, yawning, lays away her solitary diamond.

Stars came to be this very night; offspring planted

in black sockets - star eggs - and soon she too will

take off her dark, sparkling finery; close blue-grey

blinds, white curtains, to rest - and he, energised,

will work all day - never sleep until defeated by

the crazy Spring Princess - manically bursting

out all over from her short flowered green frock.

Their other sport is killing birds.

Yet the chaffinches must survive,

though they don’t know why –

like us, but don’t ask questions.

Intense effort winding clockwork hearts;

you can see nut-fuel flooding - pumping

thready pipes; lagging with fat 

breasts permanently blushed -

warm feathers nesting over tiny hearts

the very last ghost of pink island light,

like a painting of fire might warm a room

a little - dreaming frostbitten tree fingers

this night will hear the flint-spark of Spring,

and like slow lighters spurt green flames -

of lying among solar-powered blankets

of leaves – all arguing stopped; feeding

just for sheer fun, gluttony - able to stop hating

humans looking, observing rudely as if at a zoo;

and the night witch will pine - her beau

taking his leave for another whole year;

without his iron - his brittle support,

shrinking to a weak, pale blue crone,

scattering a tatter of stars,

about her thin milky Moon.

But not tonight; this they know -

warm scraps scrambling for life

among our freak occurence of crumbs -

each one being such a wonder of nerves;

feather hooks, digestive power, hysterical eyes.

I could cast each corpse in finest silver and fail

even to keep a glimpse of this fizzy bird life;

perfect flutter of existence sprung in wings -

and if I plucked the pink and zebra feathers,

peeled back the bluish-silver glove of skin -

looked inside the shiny pulsing organs;

then kept looking on and on - onioning

off colour, substance, shape - guddling

among molecules - further and further;

until matter itself slipped off - like a ghost

in reverse; and what was there was the bird,

perfect presence of bird - shining print,

poem that means bird and nothing else;

and if I saw, after all these millions of years -

even beyond the pterodactyl’s lingered spirit,

absolute birdness there - how could I ever

claim I had written it; the word of the bird.   

‘Another less happy area will be patent disputes. There has been considerable controversy over the awarding of patents for gene sequences and it is not clear what the future holds. What is clear is that such disputes are expensive. Nine years ago, the University of California accused Genentech of infringing a patent held by the university for a sequence of DNA relating to a human growth hormone. The case was only settled after five visits to the US Court of Appeals, three trips to the US Supreme Court, 1,000 days of deposition and a mistrial. Genentech agreed to pay the University of California $200m - the largest settlement ever in the field of biotechnology patents. And Affymetrix filed a complaint against Incyte in 1998 over alleged infringement of patents relating to technology which detects gene expression. In turn, Incyte have filed a patent infringement suit against Gene Logic. Still unsettled, millions of dollars have already been spent on legal costs for these cases. So, whilst the prospects for the biotechnology industry overall look bright, it seems the sun may also shine on lawyers too.’ Dr Damian Carrington, BBC News Online

For society in general, there are grave concerns over the way in which patenting and ownership of part of every human's 'natural birthright.' The genome race has been unseemly and unsavoury and hasn't done the image of science much good...’ Steven Rose, Professor of Biology and Director of the Brain and Behaviour Research Group, The Open University; Joint Gresham Professor of Physics with Special Reference to Genetics and Society

Locked in working molecules

Locked in working molecules,

evolving for millennia -

such art and secret

no lab could reproduce;

but existing in the world

now - golden keys

beaten into shape;

physical safe

of existence blown,

Nature’s patents exposed.

Life’s crown jewels

on display –

preservation, elucidation;

or exploitation, money -

selling the family silver,

holy family of mankind.


Will God sue vain men

patenting His creation -

art expressed in Nature -

copyrighting life’s poetry

which cannot be thus written -

whatever plagiarised organism

might one day crawl

into conjured light -

by anyone at all, other

than the original author.

‘The rules on granting patents for human genes should be much tighter, says a leading panel of UK bioethicists. Patents protect discoveries and inventions from being exploited by other people, but the Nuffield Council on Bioethics says too many patents are being issued for discoveries which are not particularly inventive. The discussion paper recommends a number of significant changes to the way that patents are granted involving genetic material. It questions whether the current patent system is achieving its goals: the stimulation of innovation for the public good, and the rewarding of people for useful inventions. The Nuffield Council recommends that DNA sequences should satisfy the strict criteria of being novel, inventive and useful, before they are considered for patent. This move is intended to safeguard the interests of the inventor as well as the interests of the public, it says. A patent is an exclusive right over an invention, which means that anybody using the invention within a set time limit must pay the inventor. Patents of DNA sequences last for 20 years. And, at present, they are doled out rather easily. Since the sequencing of the human genome, companies have been rushing to patent genes; even though they often do not know what the genes do, or what value they may have in the future. The race is frantic because if it strikes lucky, and the patented gene turns out to be useful within 20 years, the company stands to make a lot of money. But, in this case, what is good news for commercial companies may be bad news for patients, says the council…The report's authors recognise that the patent system should reward people for useful ideas and inventions but argue that, in the case of DNA sequences, the balance is currently too firmly in favour of the claimant. "One problem which we considered is the fact that one gene often gives rise to more than one product," comments Dr Thomas. "This means that it is quite common to find an entirely new use for a DNA sequence after it has been patented. If a patent protects all the uses of a sequence, this can give extensive, and in our view unjustified, rewards to the original researcher”.’ BBC News, 2002

‘Every day, new patents are being filed for discoveries about genetic material which are obstructing the progress of science and the development of new or cheaper treatments. Published on the eve of the World Patent Summit in London, research by GeneWatch UK and Econexus shows that gene patents are already :preventing or hindering development of new or improved medicines and treatments; limiting access to healthcare by increasing the cost of diagnostics and treatment for certain diseases; exploiting information and materials and inhibiting their free exchange between researchers; involving unsuspecting parties in extensive and costly legal battles. The research looks at the battles to control three important human genes - the breast cancer gene(s), the erythropoietin (EPO) gene crucial to blood production, and the AIDS virus receptor gene."Our research shows that public science is being hijacked. Companies are claiming to have invented discoveries about nature and are profiting unfairly from research about genes, much of which has taken place in universities," said Dr Ricarda Steinbrecher of Econexus. "For the best healthcare, discoveries about genes must be freely available, not just exclusively to profit the drug companies." "Unless the Government takes action to outlaw the patenting of genes and gene sequences, we will find the whole genome has been privatised," said Dr Sue Mayer of GeneWatch UK. "Companies are getting greedy and the NHS could be bankrupted by having to pay royalties for gene tests and drugs." Genewatch, 2001


When skin becomes transparent

as Nature’s glass developed for

the eye; skin under onion skin -

to fibred muscle pads, insulating

fat - revolting organs glistening

like snails, mollusks, snot inside;

motorways of veins - B-roads,

single track – the arterial heart

network branching - blue and red,

constantly drumming plain music.

When the identity of the cell is breached,

its bright simplicity broken, made visible

in spiral silver strings - stretching to stars,

but coiled in miniature chemical factories;

a primaeval organic production line –

still active, the story written, writing,

predicting the realising future, as annotated

for millennia - cell script, organic language,

to be the marvellous poem of the human;

this particular beauty marking him out -

as distinct species from the whole life throng,

that he has been, and is, as the tiger is another.

When all this that has been hidden -

since dinosaurs, dragonflies the size

of eagles, brother of that fern there,

is now revealed - as written, read -

this is not, and never can be,

by any definition, invention;

ask any man in the street - or

ask a monkey, kangaroo, gnu! 

This, my friend, is just seeing;

reading what is already there.


If I look into the night sky

with Nature-invented eye -

admiring the Moon,

slow star explosion

still going on, and focus;

then look with telescope,

then Hubble - send a probe,

monkey, dog, man – land –

I have not invented this planet -

cannot insanely patent the Moon.


Babies, or their parents, could be fined

for using these patented genes to grow -

adults sued for continuing infringement

of copyright law - just for being alive -

potential parents would need to seek

company permission to make a child

using patented genes

and gene sequences.

Legal action could be taken against

our genomes as they adapt, change,

develop using patented genes.

We could be held to ransom -

for medicines we need, treatment or cures -

as they interact with privately owned genes.


In this tough world, if a man owns nothing else,

he is author, curator - user of his own Genome -

the print of himself, unique in all existence,

though bound to all - his own sacred vessel.


Is there nothing men will not try to own -

only because their wings are now sleeping,

long comatose in dreamless geriatric genes

like a night-folded, invisible black swan -

they have forgotten how to fly -

have they not tried to buy the sky.


Now they are claiming the language of the world -

the language of Creation; Nature’s own slow script

written over four billion years, as their own invention -

God, dumbed by love, must frustratingly remain silent. 

‘GeneWatch UK warned today that granting patents on genes could lead to exclusive control over new treatments and medicines falling into the wrong hands. The warning came as GeneWatch and The Guardian newspaper revealed exclusive deals between two US biotech companies and Japan Tobacco for the rights to develop and market new lung cancer vaccines. Anti-tobacco campaigners and the World Health Organisation also condemned the deals. "Giving a tobacco company exclusive rights to lung cancer vaccines is like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank," said Dr Helen Wallace, Deputy Director of GeneWatch UK. "The system of granting patents on genes underpins one of these exclusive deals, allowing companies to seize genetic information and sell it to the highest bidder. Governments must end the patenting of genes and stop biotech companies like Corixa and Cell Genesys riding roughshod over patients’ interests."Clive Bates, Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said: "Even for the tobacco industry, the attempt to integrate smoking and sickness marks a new frontier in cynicism and greed. While they’re frantically promoting the image of a carefree smoking lifestyle, they’re planning to cash in on a dreadful illness." Derek Yach, Director of Non-communicable Diseases at the World Health Organisation (WHO) said: "We tackle lung cancer by breaking the addictive grip of the tobacco industry and taking action to help people quit smoking or never start. The last company that should control the rights to a lung cancer vaccine is one that makes huge profits from products that cause the disease in the first place."Genewatch, 2001

‘Monsanto files patent for new invention: the pig. Not content to own the pesticide and the herbicide and the crop, they've made a move on the barnyard by filing two patents which would make the corporate giant the sole owner of that famous Monsanto invention: the pig. The Monsanto Pig (Patent pending). The patent applications were published in February 2005 at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Geneva. A Greenpeace researcher who monitors patent applications, Christoph Then, uncovered the fact that Monsanto is seeking patents not only on methods of breeding, but on actual breeding herds of pigs as well as the offspring that result."If these patents are granted, Monsanto can legally prevent breeders and farmers from breeding pigs whose characteristics are described in the patent claims, or force them to pay royalties," says Then. "It's a first step toward the same kind of corporate control of an animal line that Monsanto is aggressively pursuing with various grain and vegetable lines.’ Greenpeace, 2005

From the frame of existence and time,

they will steal prime, colour elements

of composite paintings; manipulate

these ancient, discovered pigments

with artificial plastic brushes - novel

techniques; break down composition

into programme, chemical description,

mimic this moving hand of the artist -

then call their printing original work,

pretending to the underlying concept;

laying a crude, barbarian hand on art,

claiming to be a new master, a genius. 

Look, I have invented the butterfly!

A fallacy

Look, I have invented… the butterfly!

From minerals and pigments, spectral

properties - fine-pulverised iridescence,

her scales, impossible colours, shimmer,

were manufactured. I hinged her body,

left over from a bug - knowing no-one

would notice ugliness between her wings;

her food is sugar, like an angel, my earth-

and-air angel, she sleeps herself beautiful -

such organic fairytale; Snow White insect,

Sleeping Beauty of sky, earth and leaf.

I know she is extravagant – decorative;

from her description, strange processes,

no-one will believe she can exist or fly,

until they see her drying her new wings -

so ludicrous, her double life, symbolism,

but it’s the only way she would come

out of the darkness – she kept coming

brown, barkish, only under the Moon,

suicidal under light - her own beauty,

likewise, was an impediment to peace;

only half a life could she bear among

it, with flowers, floral sisters, equally

fantastic in appearance, construction;

recognising each other - dependent

on sweetness, unfolding in the Sun.

‘Patent law requires that any invention must be novel (never have been made public before), inventive (not obvious to someone with a good knowledge of the subject), useful (could be turned into an industrial product, for example) and not excluded (discoveries, theories and works of art are amongst those excluded). The idea of patenting oneself has not been tested: however, in February 2000, Ms Donna MacLean of Bristol in the UK filed an application to patent herself, arguing 'It has taken 30 years of hard labour for me to discover and invent myself, and now I wish to protect my invention from unauthorized exploitation, genetic or otherwise. I am new: I have led a private existence and I have not made the invention of myself public. I am not obvious”.' Guardian newspaper story cited in

I am an original work, not for sale

I am an original work, absoutely not for sale;

my particular edition of these restless genes

is utterly unique - written especially for me -

plagiarising parts of me in a computer

is tantatmount to theft - a desecration

of the sacred mechanisms of life; so –

I will sue you for sequencing my genes -

communal copyright is already established

in a higher court; with scary, ancient judge.

Scene: A Scottish sitting room, some time in the not too distant future…

Morag: ‘OK, hand it over.’

Hamish: ‘What?’

Morag: ‘Your eye.’

Hamish:  ‘My eye!’

Morag: ‘Aye, your eye. We now have the patent on the gene sequence relating to the development of the eye…’

Hamish:   ‘Um…’

Morag: ‘You look, you pay. You see, you pay. You cry, you pay    damages.’

Hamish (thinks): ‘OK, I’m suing you – I need glasses. Your gene sequence is defective.’

There can be no ownership of the Genome

You cannot patent what you did not create – ipso facto -

cannot claim as your own, work created solely by Nature.

There can be no ownership of the Genome,

any more than the sky or sea can be owned.

You cannot patent grass, salts and minerals.

You cannot patent fire; the recipe for water.

Genes are the organic and chemical seeds of life;

as no man can be owned, no gene can be owned -

abhorrent slavery of the body has been abolished,

the roots of that flesh must not now be enslaved -

genetic slavery is immoral, repugnant -

retrograde step in the evolution of man. 

We are all joint shareholders in life;

our Human Genome belongs to all.

Asking Daisies

Young, shy in her stiff white pink-tipped tu-tu -

looking up at me with her wide open yellow eye,

admirably unsquinting in relentless sun -

all her friends, corps de ballet, gazing too,

I asked the daisy on the lawn;

who was its rightful owner?

She pirhouetted gently on her sinewy green leg -

staring unswervingly at the huge blue eye of sky,

but kept just sucking earth and hot light

through her juicy straw-and-mouth head;

danced a fluttery, girlish white dance -

a little piece from Swan Lake possibly.

I asked her if we kept dissecting

past her tissue - cells, nucleus -

to her very being,

and read her there -

extracted her daisiness -

her actual letter recipe

we found there, discovered, saw -

would we then have invented her?

She never once avoided my questioning eye,

but clearly, didn’t understand the questions.


Hey, that’s my gene!

Not it’s not, it’s mine.

No, it’s not.

Yes it is.

How can it be yours?!

You didn’t invent it!

Neither did you.

Did so.

Did not.

Big fat liar…

Your genes are on fire.

‘Which regions of the human genome are patented? The Human Genome Project (HGP) releases all its data into the public domain. This publicly available information is not patentable. Indeed, in September 1999, the US President, Bill Clinton, and the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, announced they would recommend that basic genetic information should not be patentable…However, at present patents are awarded for sequences of isoated genes (the regions of DNA that contain instructions of how to make a protein). In the US, a preliminary patent application (PPA) can be filed and held for one year on gene sequences. Companies have filed many thousands of PPAs, but they are required to present full applications after the twelve-month period of validity of the PPA. It is not clear at the moment how many full patent applications will result from the PPAs. What are most of the patents on genes for? Most gene patents are taken out on genes that appear to be important in disease processes. For example, one of the earliest was for the cloned gene for human insulin: Genentech cloned the DNA in 1978 and the human protein was first marketed in 1982. It is important to understand that we can identify types of gene that are likely to be important. For example, many genes code for proteins called receptors - the gatekeepers of cells that control the passage of signals into our cells. Receptors are important in cell processes from transmitting nerve impulses to responding to hormones such as insulin. However, many receptors share common features (often they are associated with the membrane around the cell and have special organization to maintain their activity). We can then see that if we want to identify receptor molecules, we can search our DNA database for regions that share, for example, the membrane-associated regions found in receptors. Such a search pulls out many 'hits', many of which will be genuine receptors - we do not know what they do, but we do know there is a good chance they are important. Who controls most of the patents? Patents for genes are already held by commercial organisations and academic institutions around the world. In the US Incyte Genomics and the University of California hold the greatest number of gene patents. A number of organisations such as the American College of Medical Genetics have argued that genes should not be patented.’

‘However, the CEO of a leading private company told BBC News Online that the statement would make no difference to his business, as he expected that patents would still be awarded for genes if their function and medical usefulness had been worked out. Human Genome Sciences is a pharmaceutical company which is gathering genome data in the hope of developing drugs and Dr William Haseltine said: "The position is hardly a position worth making, as broad genomic data cannot be patented, because it is not useful - patents require utility. In fact, I view their statement as reaffirming the importance of patents which describe the natural function and medical utility of human genes." HGS holds patents covering about 7,000 human genes. "In order to invest in the development and testing of drugs, a patent is absolutely required. No-one would develop a gene-based drug without patent protection." Dr Haseltine noted that the awarding of a patent requires that the data is then made public: "A patent is a contract between an inventor and society - the inventor teaches society his secret of the invention and he is rewarded by a limited period of exclusivity to make and sell products based on that invention." BBC News

I am the Patent of the Flower

I am the Patent of the Flower -

recorded in Earth’s living book;

stamped with the authenticity

of life that was once amoebic

dream, a movement of water.

Beauty informs my luminous

spirit - the complex practical

interactions with my purpose;

I am beautiful and food both -

reflections of the same entity;

light is my energy - converted

to blood that remembers water,

touching hard black spring embryos,

in darkness as wet defrosting flames;

unpersonified fingers parting husk, shell,

pod, silk, coating, to the recorded dream.

Always, I am incarnated in the wounded

Garden; wild, unseen or cultivated plot –

every flower is proof that I exist - our genus,

classifications, all instances are bound to me.

I am autonomous and beyond reach,

principles of new ownership risible,

as if I were a car of gold - house built

in a spoiled clearing; a new junk food.

My processes manufacture green,

food - fuel from oxygen and sun -

photosynthesis and chlorophyll

mark my identity - realisation -

hallmark production. I am every instance

of every flower, open in the world’s field;

I am the seed and the script;

I am every future flower –

luxurious, decorative, utilitarian

beauty; bee-loving, and beloved.

‘The Medical Research Council today welcomed the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ discussion paper, The Ethics of Patenting DNA. Professor Sir George Radda, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said: “We welcome the paper and agree that there should be diligent application of the three criteria for patentability, namely novelty, inventiveness and utility.” The MRC’s general approach to the patenting of human genes is that patents that include information about gene sequences may be filed in cases where the function of the gene product is described and where a clear route to benefits for human healthcare, resulting from this information, is provided. Such benefits may be the development of new or improved treatments or diagnostic tests.The MRC is not opposed in principle to the concept of commercial development of diagnostic tests based on patented information about gene sequences and mutations within such genes that result in disease or susceptibility to disease.Whether such information is the result of research in academic institutions - and licensed by the institution to companies working in the diagnostic field - or generated by the companies themselves, the MRC generally sees patenting as an important part of encouraging investment in further research and development of accurate and reliable tests for the benefit of patients. The investment in research and development by the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry is higher than that of any other industry and, in order to justify the risk, the MRC believes that it is necessary for the industry to pursue an active policy of filing for patent protection.The patent system should not discriminate against inventions relating to human genetics. The patentability criteria, which apply to all areas of technology, should apply equally to the field of human genetics. Publicly-funded research is an important precursor to innovation by the biopharmaceutical industry and MRC believes that academics should protect and transfer results to industry on commercially reasonable terms.’ Medical Research Council, 2002

What is the identity of a star

What is the identity of a star -

named among all those sprinkled;

sparkling sky-dust sisters you can touch

with no sense of scholarly perspective -

under distance-anaesthetised fingertips,

feeling like prickles of Christmas glitter;

skelfs spreading infections

of light under porous skin -

their silver seeding

still visible in eyes;

clone sequins that learned

how to bring forth waters.

Who is that one star with a name,

of parent or wife or shining child;

some relative but freshly dead,

still felt like an angel of prey -

hovering above every movement -

landing, present in every situation;

vulturing the bed every sad night.

They will rise on currents of time,

leaving silver printed particles,

like pollen haunting a room -

where black soot and gold dust -

old spirits glinting in space, fight

to control the atmosphere -

temperature and radar heart.

Their star is the fly in amber;

they are all turned to light -

quite cold as the snakeskin body,

snowy bones; the eye stars, risen.  

What recipe the incandescent star,

written live in night’s black book;

what hand the cosmic author -

poet of darkness, bright space.

What mark does he stamp

on a star’s original metal;

let no man stake his claim

to such creative hallmark.

I have taken out patent on the stars

I have taken out patent on the stars;

heavenly processes and properties -

during expansion, the creation of Universes,

my body will shine infinitely silver as theirs;

even after I am gone. I have sequenced, stolen

that time-trick - their dead light appearing still,

mouse-twinkle of movement from ice -

fire, stone, as if life still fluttered a little.

Visible to earthly inhabitants, imperious,

but beautiful, wished upon, so connected

somehow to ignorance of what life means;

appearing in space, all dependent on light -

something different in the writing molecules

to all stars, that cannot be captured or bought.

But I shall wait in the prevailing darkness;

another event may happen - breath, water

coming after the cataclysm - creating me

as dust, then earth; creatures and flowers.

Note from the author
exploring the project

    The Human Genome Project
    – Public versus private
    Gene Patenting
        Designer Children
        Opinion Polls/Public
    Blood Poems
    Holy-Moley-More God!

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