GENOME PROJECT: Clinton Calls for Public Access to Code
President Clinton said that researchers and the general public should have open access to the human genetic code -- not just a small group of biotech and drug companies. Clinton's remarks Thursday were sparked by warnings from critics who argue that without restrictions, public access "could be sharply restricted -- to the detriment of research, medical care and innovation." With the human genome project on the verge of completion, lawmakers are wrestling with the problem of defining limitations on the scope of patents. If left unhindered, patents on this genetic information "could be split up among dozens of commercial interests, with companies claiming large and overlapping pieces and fighting over the contested portions."
Is Patent System Best?
"Most scientists and researchers believe the basic information ought to be as broadly shared as possible ... Then, when people develop something that has specific use or commercial benefit ... that ought to be patentable," the president said. But Chuck Ludlam, vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, countered, "The patent system is the best way to make sure that the information developed by inventors is published and made available to researchers." Most observers believe that the industry will not be granted patents for parts of the code, saying that while industries "can seek patent protections for new tests, drugs or treatments based on ... parts of the code, they cannot control the underlying code itself." Clinton said, "We've got to get the basic information out to everybody who might find some particular use for it. To me, it's pretty clear what the policy ought to be" (Gosselin, Los Angeles Times, 2/11).