Why Gene Rights Aren't Patently Obvious

The purpose of the patent system is to provide incentives for the development of new and useful products and processes. Such products and processes are generally referred to as ‘inventions’. Whilst patents have historically been sought and granted for mechanical and chemical inventions only, the biotechnology revolution of the last 30 years has radically changed this by precipitating a mass of patent applications in respect of living and biological matter. Applications of this nature have forced a re-examination by courts and policy makers of traditional understandings of what can be patented. In particular, they have forced consideration of the extent (if any) to which life and nature can be viewed as ‘inventions’ so as to be capable of supporting a patent. In considering this question the central guiding principle has been the distinction, on which all of patent law is said to rest, between man-made inventions on the one hand and discoveries of nature on the other.
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