Patenting Life: The Harvard Mouse that Has Not Roared

There has been little notice of the Canadian government's recent action in a 15-year patent dispute with Harvard University, even though it may restoke the fires of controversy about the patenting of life.1 Last month, the government appealed to the Canadian Supreme Court the award to Harvard of a patent on a transgenic mouse.2 The university filed the patent application in June 1985 for the Harvard Oncomouse, so named because it is genetically engineered to be susceptible to cancer.1 The Canadi

Lj Deftos
Nov 26, 2000

There has been little notice of the Canadian government's recent action in a 15-year patent dispute with Harvard University, even though it may restoke the fires of controversy about the patenting of life.1 Last month, the government appealed to the Canadian Supreme Court the award to Harvard of a patent on a transgenic mouse.2 The university filed the patent application in June 1985 for the Harvard Oncomouse, so named because it is genetically engineered to be susceptible to cancer.1 The Canadian Patent Office rejected the claim in 1993, arguing that the animal was made primarily by nature, not by humans. The Commissioner of Patents upheld the rejection in 1995, as did a federal trial court in 1998 Then, a federal appeals court reversed both in August 2000 and approved the patent, stating that it was not prohibited by the Canadian Patent Act.1,3

The next month, the...

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