Banning the patenting of biological materials in Australia: fact v fiction


Tania Obranovich

An Australian legislative bill could have grave consequences for the country’s life sciences industry and, potentially, for patients as well. Tania Obranovich explains.

The BRCA patents, which claim breast cancer diagnostic methods and BRCA DNA molecules, have courted significant controversy in Australia. Specifically, the Australian licensee’s attempt to centralise BRCA diagnostic testing in-house caused great public concern and triggered the establishment of a Senate enquiry into the impact of granting gene patents.

This enquiry was followed by the introduction of legislation proposing to ban the patenting of all biological materials that are identical or substantially identical to such materials as they exist in nature, and itself led to the establishment of a second Senate enquiry to report on whether the Bill should be pursued. The validity of the Australian BRCA DNA claims is also currently the subject of judicial revocation proceedings.

The community concerns underpinning this controversy are essentially that:

gene patents, Australia Patents Act, biotechnology