The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

October 4, 2013

Designer baby patent is 'a serious mistake,' critics charge

(Continued)

Any such system would be “ethically and socially treacherous,” she said. “It could encourage the dangerous idea that science should be used to breed ‘better’ people, breathing new life into the specter of eugenics that has long hung over the field of genetics.”

For its part, 23andMe says it has no plans to offer the sort of designer-baby service that critics are worried about. Speaking on the company’s behalf, blogger “ScottH” wrote that the Mountain View, Calif., company intended to patent the technology behind its Family Traits Inheritance Calculator, which “is used by our customers as a fun way to look at such things as what eye color their child might have or if their child will be able to perceive bitter taste or be lactose intolerant.”

But five years ago, when the patent application was filed, the company thought “the technology could have potential applications for fertility clinics so language specific to the fertility treatment process was included in the patent,” ScottH wrote. As it turned out, the company never pursued that line of business, “nor do we have any plans to do so,” he wrote.

Even if 23andMe never brings a design-your-own-baby DNA test to market — and even if it uses its patent to prevent anyone else from doing so — the authors of the Genetics in Medicine report say it’s still troubling that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office would award this patent in the first place.

“At no stage during the examination of the patent application did the patent office examiner question whether techniques for facilitating the ‘design’ of future human babies were appropriate subject matter for a patent,” they wrote.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individual genes were products of nature, not inventions, and thus could not be patented by companies. The case involved Myriad Genetics, which co-developed a test that is used to see whether people have particular mutations in their DNA that are known to influence the risk of breast, ovarian and other cancers.

The Supreme Court’s opinion in Association of Molecular Pathology vs. Myriad Genetics Inc. was unanimous.

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