The idea that private companies could get a patent on genes they discover has always bothered me, (along with a lot of other people). Discovering a gene or anything else that exists in nature should not entitle the discoverer to any control over how any knowledge of that gene is used. Of course most corporations working in this field oppose limiting patents, claiming that such limitation will remove the incentive to do research necessary to medical or general scientific progress. I have always believed the opposite. I think not allowing patents on genes and other naturally occurring entities opens up research and progress to all researchers rather than limiting it to the original discoverer. Companies can be successful, and profits made, by developing products and procedures resulting from genetic discoveries without having to patent the actual gene.
The NY Times has a good article on gene patenting and the U.S. Government’s new position. One disturbing fact highlighted in the Times article is that already 20% of human genes have been patented. If the Federal Court agrees that gene patenting is not legal, I wonder if the patents on those 20% of human genes will be, or even could be, revoked?