Bulletin of the World Health Organization

DNA patenting: implications for public health research

Graham Dutfield


I weigh the arguments for and against the patenting of functional DNA sequences including genes, and find the objections to be compelling. Is an outright ban on DNA patenting the right policy response? Not necessarily. Governments may wish to consider options ranging from patent law reforms to the creation of new rights. There are alternative ways to protect DNA sequences that industry may choose if DNA patenting is restricted or banned. Some of these alternatives may be more harmful than patents. Such unintended consequences of patent bans mean that we should think hard before concluding that prohibition is the only response to legitimate concerns about the appropriateness of patents in the field of human genomics.