Who Owns Your Genes?

Date & Time

Wed, 08/05/2009
5:30 – 7 p.m.


Over the past 50 years, one of the most exciting areas of biological discovery has been the identification and understanding of human genes. These discoveries hold great promise for medical diagnostics and therapeutics, but questions about intellectual property rights raise tough challenges for this new field of science. While most of us are familiar with the role of patents in protecting new inventions, it may not be as clear what it means to patent a gene.

Patents are now held on about 20% of human genes. These patents play an important role in securing opportunities for financial benefit to those who invest the time, effort, and resources to characterize and develop uses of these genes. However, the concept of patenting part of our biology, and the risk of restriction of access to useful information, can lead many of us to question the use of patent law in this area of scientific discovery and development. These challenges were addressed by three panelists in our Exploring Ethics program for August 2009:


ACLU (May 12, 2009): ACLU Challenges patents on breast cancer genes. ACLU:http://www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/brca.html

Randall Mayes (2009): In Defense of Patenting DNA: A pragmatic libertarian perspective. Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies:http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/mayes20090726

Sanjay Gupta (May 13, 2009): ACLU sues over breast cancer genes. CNN:http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/05/12/us.genes.lawsuit

Wyatt Andrews (May 13, 2009): Can Corporations own your DNA? CBS News:http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/05/13/eveningnews/main5012149.shtml

Donald Zuhn (June 9, 2009): Gene Patenting Debate Continues. Patent Docs:http://www.patentdocs.org/2009/06/gene-patenting-debate-continues.html

NIH Office of Biotechnology Activities (2009): Gene Patents and Licensing Practices and Patient Access to Genetic Tests: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3042321/


Leonard Deftos
UCSD, Department of Medicine

I am a Distinguished Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and staff physician at the UCSD Medical Center and the San Diego VA Healthcare System (VASDHS).  I received my undergraduate education at Brown University, my medical education at the University of Vermont; my medical training at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City; and my endocrine training at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and at Harvard and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. In addition to my medical background, I have a JD from Thomas Jefferson School of law and an LLM from the University Of San Diego School Of Law.

Kevin Keenan
ACLU San Diego

Kevin Keenan is executive director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties.  He helped human rights reform efforts in Belfast, Northern Ireland following the Good Friday Peace Agreement and monitored elections in the former Yugoslavia.  He is author of Invasion of Privacy: A Reference Handbook (ABC-CLIO 2005) and, with Samuel Walker, An Impediment to Accountability? An Analysis of Law Enforcement Officers’ Bills of Rights (Boston University Journal of Public Interest Law 2005). Keenan graduated from Yale Law School and Swarthmore College.

Stacy Taylor

Stacy Taylor is a partner in the San Diego office of DLA Piper LLP (US), one of the world’s largest law firms. For more than 23 years, she has secured, protected and licensed intellectual property in the biomedical field worldwide, with particular emphasis on diagnostics (including nucleic acid arrays, immunodiagnostics and imaging technology), gene therapy, cellular therapies, vaccines, medical devices (including those used in intravascular procedures, vascular access and drug delivery) and drug development (including screening, small molecule development and scale-up manufacturing).