Current Issue

Volume 76, Number 6

December 2001

International Conflicts over Patenting Human DNA Sequences in the United States and the European Union: An Argument for Compulsory Licensing and a Fair-Use Exemption

Donna M. Gitter

The thought of a large biotech company holding an exclusive right to research and manipulate human genetic material provokes many reactions–from moral revulsion to enthusiasm about the possibilities for therapeutic advancement. While most agree that such a right must exist, debate continues over te appropriate extent of its entitlements and preclusive effects. In this Article, Professor Donna Gitter addresses this multidimensional problem of patents on human deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequences in the United States and the European Union. Professor Gitter chronicles not only the development of the laiw in this area, but also the array of policy and moral arguments that proponents and detractors of such patents raise. She emphasizes the specific issue of patents on DNA sequences whose function has not fully been identified, and the chilling effect these patents may have on beneficial research. From this discussion emerges a troubling realization: While the legal framework governing “life patents” may be similar in the United States and the European Union, the public perceptions and attitudes toward them are not. Professor Gitter thus proposes a dual reform: a compulsory licensing regime requiring holders of DNA sequence patents to license them to commercial researchers, in return for a royalty keyed to the financial success of the product that tie licensee develops; and an experimental-use exemption from this regime for government and nonprofit researchers.