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Bio Technology : October 2009
have been done to develop the drugs in the first place. For those who argue against the availability of gene patents there are three issues of concern. First, patents are not available for discoveries such as a new mineral or a new plant. Human gene sequences, it is argued, already exist and their identification represents a mere discovery not an invention. Second, it is argued that patents such as the BRCA test patent prevent further research in the area which might help develop an even better diagnostic test. Finally, is it ethical to have intellectual property rights over isolated human genes? On the other side of the debate is the need to ensure that our system of intellectual property is robust. As technology companies scan the globe for the best place to do busi- ness key amongst their needs is a system of law which respects and protects their intellectual property. This has been a comparative advantage for Australia in attracting the development of international technology to our shores which is vital in developing a high tech modern economy. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies also argue that the development of gene-related technologies require the same sorts of activities and effort that are involved in the development of a new drug. Accordingly the acquisition of intellectual property rights are the only way that such innovation can be commercially viable. Most importantly there is a premium on Australia having laws which are consistent with the international patent system. To be out of step with international norms carries significant risks that Australia will be bypassed by the global innovation system. Among developed or emerging economy affiliates to the World Intellectual Property Organisation only Brazil and Argentina currently prevent the patenting of gene technolo- gies. To join this number there needs to be compelling reasons. The Government's agency responsible for patents is cur- rently reviewing the patent system. The issue of the right to conduct research around existing patents will form part of this review. But for the Government to go further in establishing an explicit ban on the right to obtain a gene related patent is a very big call. Should that call be made? We await the outcomes of the Senate inquiry's report with interest. The article was originally published in The Punch www.thepunch.com.au/articles/gene-patents/ 15/08/09