LONDON — The Nuffield Council on Bioethics Round Table Group — a panel of experts in patent law, philosophy and biotechnology — has just finished an in-depth investigation into gene patenting that took two years to complete. The result is a discussion paper, called The ethics of patenting DNA, that attempts to set out an ethical framework for gene patenting that will stimulate innovation for the public good but at the same time rein in the worst excesses of commercial exploitation.

The group was set up because of growing concerns that patents are being granted to biotech firms before they have any real idea of a gene's potential. This practice is thought to account for a significant number of the tens of thousands of patents already held by private companies and has been likened to the snapping up of internet domains for sale at vastly inflated prices during the...

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