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Owning the Genome

A Moral Analysis of DNA Patenting

David B. Resnik

Publication Year: 2004

DNA patenting has emerged as a hot topic in science policy and bioethics as private companies and government agencies spend billions of dollars on genetic research and development in a race to identify, sequence, and analyze DNA from human, animal, and plant species. David B. Resnik’s Owning the Genome explores the ethical, social, philosophical, theological, and policy issues surrounding DNA patenting and develops a comprehensive approach to the topic. Resnik considers arguments for and against DNA patenting and concludes that only a patent on a whole human genome would be inherently immoral, while the morality of other DNA patents depends on their consequences for science, medicine, agriculture, industry, and society. He also stresses the importance of government regulations and policies in order to minimize the harmful effects of patenting while promoting the beneficial ones.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title page, copyright page

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pp. ix-x

I would like to acknowledge individuals and organizations that have helped me gather information for this book or who have given me critical feedback. Those deserving recognition include: Ellen Clayton, Ronald Cole-Turner, Ken De Ville, John Doll, Rebecca Eisenberg, Lila Feisee,Myron Genel, Paul Gilman, Frank Grassler, Mark Hanson, Pamela Langer, David Magnus, Ron...

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Legal Disclaimers

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pp. xi-xii

The aim of this book is to provide the reader with some general information pertaining to legal issues. It does not aim to provide the reader with legal advice on any particular case. Those who require legal advice on intellectual property questions should consult a licensed attorney. Since the aim of the book is to examine moral issues, legal scholars and patent attorneys may not find this book very useful for analyzing legal problems...

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Disclosure Statement

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pp. xiii-xiv

I have no significant financial interests in the companies discussed in this book nor have I received any funding from those companies in working on this book. I have no formal relationships with any of the companies discussed in this book...

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Chapter 1

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pp. 1-12

Since 1976, the United States’ Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has issued over 16,000 patents on isolated and purified deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequences or on processes used to identify, isolate, copy, sequence, or analyze DNA sequences (PTO 2002). In 1999 alone, the office received over 3,000 patent applications pertaining to DNA sequences or DNA-related technologies...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 13-30

Before tackling the topic of DNA patenting, it will be useful to provide the general reader with some scientific background relating to the structure and function of DNA and the practical applications of biotechnology. Since I am only presenting introductory material for a lay audience, readers who are familiar with DNA and biotechnology may skip ahead to the next chapter...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 31-62

All properties can be viewed as a collection of rights to control something (Honore 1977; Benn 1967; Dreyfuss 1989). A person who has property rights with respect to a plot of land, has rights to sell, modify, possess, use, mine, and rent the land. Although we tend to think of the land as the property, the land is a mere thing that has its status as property in relation to members of society. If no...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 63-72

Chapters 2 and 3 discussed some of the scientific and legal aspects of DNA patenting. At this point it should be apparent that there is currently a solidlegal foundation for DNA patents, although lawyers and judges continue to argue about various legal issues in DNA patenting. In the remainder of thebook, we will use this scientific and legal framework to consider the moral and...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 73-92

The previous chapter introduced the utilitarian argument for DNA patents, which chapters 7 through 9 will explore in more depth. This chapter and the following one will consider some deontological arguments against DNA patentsas well as argument that address some of the negative social consequences of DNA patents. Deontological arguments assert that the very practice of DNA...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 93-130

This chapter will examine and critique an important deontological challenge to DNA patenting, namely, the objection that DNA patents violate human dignity. We have already seen how members of the “Joint Appeal against Human and Animal Patenting” compared DNA patenting to slavery, while many critics have objected to treating human beings (or their...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 131-154

Chapters 5 and 6 considered some deontological arguments against DNA patents as well as some consequentialist arguments. The next three chapters will focus on consequentialist arguments against DNA patenting that address the impacts of DNA patenting on science, medicine, and agriculture. This chapter will consider the argument that DNA patents undermine scientific...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 155-176

Chapter 7 examined potential benefits and harms to science resulting from DNA patents. This chapter continues this type of benefit-harm analysis in the medical realm. After reviewing the benefits of DNA patents for medicine, the chapter will examine the potential harms. This chapter, like the previous two chapters, will apply the Precautionary Principle to the issues at hand. It will...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 177-194

This chapter continues in the theme of the benefit-harm analyses conducted in chapters 7 and 8 but will focus on the potential benefits and harms to agriculture resulting from DNA patenting. After reviewing the benefits of DNA patents for agriculture, the chapter will examine the potential harms. As in chapters 7 and 8, the main concern will be to determine whether these...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 195-202

In this book, I have attempted to provide the reader with an overview of the moral and policy issues related to the patenting of DNA. The first two chapters covered the scientific, technological, and legal aspects of the topic. Subsequent chapters discussed a variety of moral arguments for and against the patenting of DNA products and processes, and made a number of suggestions...


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pp. 203-210


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pp. 211-230


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pp. 231-235

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485941
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791459317
Print-ISBN-10: 0791459314

Page Count: 259
Illustrations: 1 table, 9 figures
Publication Year: 2004

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Recombinant DNA -- Patents -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Human genome -- Patents -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Patent laws and legislation -- United States.
  • Biotechnology industries -- Law and legislation -- United States.
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