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Privacy Science

Who Owns Your DNA? 24

Posted by timothy
from the ok-ok-we'll-let-you-keep-*some*-of-the-genes dept.
fialar writes to this "interesting article on how 10 major pharmaceutical companies want to own your DNA. More specifically, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Researchers of America (PhRMA), whom no one has hardly heard of. They want to put pressure on lawmakers to wrest genetic information from private property into their own proprietary data banks. Read the article here."
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Who Owns Your DNA?

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  • Actually, I wasn't referring to the copy of DNA in organic form. I was referring to digital versions of gene sequences. Since it's a decoded version of something someone owns, and it's on a computer -- it just seems to open the door for problems. Maybe I'm just a DMCA basket case. *grin*

    If it's a limited time frame, then let's shift patents down to 10-20 years limit. The old standard was conceived in an era when innovation happened far less often, and with far more effort, and the payoff period wasn't 2-3 years. The Pharms may balk at this, but I think most people will agree that businesses have a right to a profit, but not a right to unlimited profits. Unlimited profits tends to go hand in hand with gouging.

    The really scary thing is that there are some really bright people out there who are asking, "how can we get people to pay for things they already own." The DMCA was a step in that direction, and Pharms owning rights to something that is part and parcel of my being sounds like they're trying to charge me for something I already own.
  • I'm using discovery in the more modern meaning as a synonym for exploration, or the fruits thereof. The old meaning makes little distinction, and that has held true till today.

    So, I'll reword my little saying:

    "I can no more patent a comet than I can patent a genetic sequence. Neither is forged from the fires of the imagination."

    Hope that one passes muster. :-)
  • by scotpurl (28825) on Thursday March 29, 2001 @01:53PM (#329173)
    ...it might be illegal to do any sort of gene sequencing, or decoding, for diagnosing a disease without first first getting permission from the pharms, who "own" the encoded sequence. And even then, there will be a fee. Factor that in when you're trying to get diagnosed for a disease.

    I can no more patent a comet than I can patent a genetic sequence. They are discoveries, and not inventions.
  • Exactly. You can't copyright them either. If it were a copyright issue then most of the cells in my body would be in violation. They copy DNA all the time. Therefore: DMCA does not apply in any case.


    Anyway god owns all the IP on the sequences. Historically we have had an exclusive but limited term license. We are now asked to give up some exclusivity to perhaps get a longer term on that license. It's a deal I would go for.

  • OK break out the flamethrowers, but here goes.

    Why should we own our DNA? If some pharmco makes a bundle of some discover from your DNA, what have they contributed? Major intellectual effort, money and time. What have you contributed? A slimey Q-tip. You get what you give. Royalties paid to people would be akin to a lottery, where your ticket is your DNA. Very few would profit in practice. Got something really valuable? Maybe you are naturally AIDS resistant, or cancer resistant. Hey, hold out for millions. You've got them over a barrel. NOW who is the profiteer? Maybe the IRS will now go after your parents for gift/estate taxes, because after all, you got the DNA from them.

    If you want a compromise, maybe consider leaving DNA as private property, but mandating compulsory, nondiscriminatory licensing or something.

    Note I am NOT talking about privacy, this is NOT THE SAME as privacy. Taking a routine sample and telling your employer you are at risk of Alzheimers is a heinous crime, and should always be (same goes for any other medical test). Read the article. The Oregon bill is a DNA privacy bill for a reason. The drug companies have a vested interest in maintaining privacy because they know they will be lynched otherwise.

  • Let's parse the closing paragraphs of the article [commondreams.org] that started this thread...

    • If bills like SB114 are successful, they may force us to make a Faustian bargain. They may accelerate the commercialization of products from bioengineering discoveries while requiring us to cede any claim to the roots of our own individuality.

      The very basis for our uniqueness and complexity will no longer belong to us, but instead will become raw material which can be extracted and exploited for corporate gain.

    What about the fact that an employer can turn an employees thought into a product that saves/makes millions. That's thought is more indicative of a persons individuality and creativeness than their DNA. That corporation saving insight is also something they deserve big compensation for moreso than a drop of blood that could be obtained from anyone.

    The author proposes that what makes me an individual is my DNA. So if I were to have an identical twin with identical DNA, neither of us are individuals. Yeah, right. Likewise any corporate research that results in "bioengineering discoveries" from my/our DNA that is turned into a product by the big mean (mean=profitable) corporation isn't really a product that can be differentiated from myself/ourselves. So the company is really selling me/us without my/our consent. Yeah, right ;)

    • If we are going to begin to commercialize our living genetic material, should not all parties be able to partake in the gold rush?
    The author seems to forget that the gold rush was littered with big dreamers that reaped poverty and boom towns that became ghost towns. People can participate in the gold rush by buying a piece of the corporation. It was stated that, "...The 10 largest drug companies last year collected $179 billion, of which $121 billion was in gross profit." If this is true could someone tell me the names of these 10 large PROFITABLE drug companies. Since RedHat stock and some of my .com stocks are tanking I'd really like to buy into a winning company/industry.

    --Chuck

  • by Valdrax (32670) on Friday March 30, 2001 @08:48AM (#329177)
    Why should we own our DNA? If some pharmco makes a bundle of some discover from your DNA, what have they contributed? Major intellectual effort, money and time. What have you contributed? A slimey Q-tip. You get what you give. Royalties paid to people would be akin to a lottery, where your ticket is your DNA. Very few would profit in practice. Got something really valuable? Maybe you are naturally AIDS resistant, or cancer resistant. Hey, hold out for millions. You've got them over a barrel. NOW who is the profiteer? Maybe the IRS will now go after your parents for gift/estate taxes, because after all, you got the DNA from them.

    You seem to see evil in people demanding money for works based on their unique genetic advantages. Good. The problem is that you instead say that this right should be turned over to pharmacutical companies. No way in hell.

    Natural genetic code formed by billions of years of evolution is a public commons. It should be the property of all mankind. No company should be able to withhold the right of others to look at the DNA within themselves. The idea that a pharmacutical company should be able to patent tests on certain genes is ludicrous. It's the most obvious application of the Human Genome Project! Once you know what a gene does, testing to see if people have a problem created by that gene by looking for its presense is obvious, even to people who are not practioners versed in the art.

    Natural genes that provide advantages to people are discoveries, not inventions. I don't have a problem with patenting unique created sequences, but patenting anything based on something discovered in nature is just a revolting abuse of the patent system. That's not innovation. That's not creativity. That's just taking something already existing and making sure that no one can use it without paying you for having noticed it.

    If you want to see the evil that companies can do when they decide to enforce gene licenses, look no further than our favorite repeat offender, Monsanto.

    Perhaps you should consider the recent Slashdot article about Monsanto suing a farmer in Canada who was growing crops based on Monsanto seeds that blew onto his property. Monsanto successfully proved that since they owned the patents to the genetically altered corn, they owned exclusive rights to the growth of the corn. Since he hadn't signed their extortionist contracts to grow the corn, he couldn't grow it, even though successive generations had been produced on his land. Futhermore, he couldn't grow crops based on seeds he had stored from the previous few years. Essentially, his business was destroyed because the Canadian courts ruled that since Monsanto owned the IP rights to the genes in the crops, they also own the rights to production of any derived works.

    Now let's put those same rights of ownership of the genes that make you and me into the hands of a profiteering third party. What if your child gets a genetic enhancement that helps cure a disease? Can the company demand that your child pay a licensing fee for any children that they have? If you refuse, can they order any derivative works based on your child's genes destroyed or turned over to them?

    Now, I think it's unlikely that anything this bad will ever happen with humans, but it wouldn't surprise me if it did. Greed seems to be the primary motivating factor of society today.
  • L.Cypher, he said he worked for Microsoft...
    --
  • The article is pretty clear on this.

    Drug companies may actually have to share profits if valuable genetic material is used as the basis for a pharmaceutical.

    In return for the right to use the material as they see fit and not potentially share any profits with you, I'm sure they'll have no problem at all with doing anything reasonable to ensure your privacy.

    Probably the scariest part of this is the dreaded "Law of Unintended Consequences". If the only thing given up was the potential profits some drug manufacturer might be able to make from something derived from my DNA, there would be no problem. The potential benefits of these discoveries far outweigh any hypothetical money I don't have. What other uses are there which this type of legal change might affect? Big Brother type things might be least of our worries.

  • All Your DNA Are Belong To Us!
  • For our 'safety'??? Like just in case my cells forget how to replicate? What kind of safety will I have by someone having my DNA stored in a database? Even if the givven reason is for 'safety', you still come to the same end-- no privacy.
  • I can no more patent a comet than I can patent a genetic sequence. They are discoveries, and not inventions.

    Here is the appropriate line from the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8:

    To promote the progress of
    science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;
  • The article is in the "Featured Views" section of the publication. I dunno about you, but a heading like that translates as "Take with 100-1000mg NaCl" to me.

    Yes I'm aware that a full gram is a very big grain of salt.

  • Shyster, Shyster, and Shyster
    Attornies at Law

    It has come to our attention that you are illegally using the copyrighted genetic material of our client 'OneBigCorp.Com'. Furthermore we have learned that you are attempting fo create further self replicating entities using our property (children). Under the DCMA we have insterted a 'self help' section into your genetic code. This letter is to inform you of it's activation.

    Sincerly
    Shyster

    (The reader's heart then turns to jelly)
  • And if anyone else tries to claim ownership of it I'll cave their skull in.

    Always remember, violence solves everything.

    Er... Well, y'know. You can't make an omelette without um... destroying a forest. Or something.

  • This "article" is a bunch of hand-waving coupled with a lot of smoke and mirrors. No where in the article does it explain the reasoning behind the proposed waiving of DNA property rights. In fact, it does not explain at all what your "property rights" to your DNA entail.

    It essentially says that PhRMA is lobbying to have a bill passed that enforces some rights while reduces others. The only opinion given is the author's own, no expert opinion is given. Even when the author gives his(?) opinion it is not supported by facts but by buzzwords (exploited, gold rush, Faustian bargain, individuality, etc.). As well informed as the author may be, there isn't any information conveyed that could lead any reader to form a logical conclusion. It is merely hype and bluster and (hate to say it) propaganda.

    As written, this article is a complete waste of time.

    Much like this comment.

    Dancin Santa
  • Any idea why they want it. I mean, if its for our 'safety' then okay. But if its just so we have no privacy, then i dont think so! sounds to me like something like big brother!
  • Thanks. I must of missed that while reading the article. Thanks again for clarifing
  • This just in from wall street, stocks on DNA sales are soring!
  • DNA has been around since the beginning of times. i don't he how a few companies who've been around for a few years should have the rights to decide who owns it or not. we are not raw materials, but i guess since we use trees and animals (which have DNA) as then, we must be no different. i don't see how privacy will stiffle their innovation. are the researchers robots or rocks? don't they have their own DNA that they could use? next thing you know a company will patent the wheel or fire and collect a lot of back royalties for anyone who used these items throughout the ages. make you wonder what kind of world we are in now.
  • An Idaho farmer is suing Monsanto for 'genetic trespass'. It seems that Monsanto, through it's own "act or failure to act" caused/allowed patented seed to take root in the farmer's field without his permission, thus impinging on his land, fertilizer, original crop, etc and "exposing him to a cause of action".

    Oops, just kidding. But I'll bet such a farmer would get huge public support.
  • To better serve you AOL will be taking control of all human and animal DNA from this point forward. Much of this information will be freely available for AOL members. However this information will not be available to nonmembers as DNA information is one of AOL premium services.

    Join now for only 22.95 per month and get access to your own DNA.
  • When they pey you $50 for a blood sample use it to buy a few shares of their company.
  • Too late they are already open. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov But there are other databases that require a subscription.

The use of anthropomorphic terminology when dealing with computing systems is a symptom of professional immaturity. -- Edsger Dijkstra

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