Canadian Churches Prevail in Patent Ruling on Genetically Modified Mouse

Dec 14, 2002 09:25 AM EST

The Supreme Court of Canada has issued a landmark decision against Harvard University: forbidding patent on a genetically modified mouse for medical research.

The ruling ends a 17-year legal battle and is a victory for churches that argued that patenting the mouse would mean turning living beings into intellectual property. "There has been enormous lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry and biotech industry to allow patenting of higher life forms," said the Rev. Eric Beresford, an Anglican who was speaking on behalf of the Canadian Council of Churches.

The court in its 5 to 4 ruling said that Canada's century-old patent law did not permit higher life forms to be considered "invention." Harvard had altered the genetic composition of the mouse so that it and its offspring would develop cancer more frequently and predictably as an aid to cancer research and had applied in Canada for the patent.

The Canadian Commissioner of Patents had granted Harvard exclusive rights on the process and the genetic composition of the mouse but denied a patent on the mouse itself. The churches argued that granting a patent on the mouse under current law had serious implications for the future of biotechnology, creating the possibility of human patenting in the future.

Canada is the only country that has refused such applications. The European Union, the United States and Japan have already ruled in favor of allowing such patents. The only recourse for those who support genetically modified life forms is to appeal to the Canadian Parliament.

By Albert H. Lee
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