Owning a gene

When a drug company patents a gene, obviously they don’t own exclusive right to that gene. Amgen can’t come to my son and sue because he has the blue eye gene - so what exactly does having a patent on a gene mean? What right does the patent give the gene-holder?

I don’t have an answer for you, but…did you just happen to read “Next” by Michael Crichton? The novel touches on that same topic, and there’s a bonus diatribe at the end. Interesting reading…

I’m not an expert, but as I recall owning the gene gives them rights over any commercial uses of that gene. Possibly scientific uses as well; I’'m not sure.

So, if they get hold of a cell sample from you, or some tribe in the Third World, and discover a useful gene and patent it, neither you or the tribe is allowed to profit from it.

The way I understand it the “invention” in this case is “application of this genetic code in this overly vague and general but artificial way”. As in they are not patenting what the animal is doing with the gene, they’re patenting what they’re doing with the gene. I don’t think you can just patent an existing gene like that – you either need to splice up something that didn’t exist before or come up with a new application of something that did.

And what if they patent a gene that they came up with but a few years down the road it turns out that the gene naturally occurs in humans or animals on a rare basis?

If that’s not “prior art” I don’t know what is. After the first lawsuit, their patent will become void or much narrower (not sure, up to the courts/peculiarities of the legal system I do not know about)

Genetics and patenting (Human Genome Project)

Beginner’s Guide to Gene Patents