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Letters: Patenting human genes

April 16, 2013

Re "Who should own DNA? All of us," Opinion, May 12

Marcy Darnovsky and Karuna Jaggar seem unaware of what a patent actually grants. It is not ownership but a limited (in scope and time) property right. Patents are essential for innovative biomedical product development, a far different business than when Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine.

Mining rights are a good analogy. The minerals of this country are indeed owned by all Americans, but a mining company is necessary to extract their value. The government grants an exclusive lease to a company to extract, say, silver from a mine. If anyone else could walk into the mine and remove ore, the company would never build the mine in the first place.

Making genetic material unpatentable is tantamount to destroying access to genetic tests based on the breakthroughs of the DNA era, because no business would invest capital in a product that anyone else can copy without consequences.

Michael Pirrung

Irvine

The writer is an organic chemistry professor at UC Riverside.

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