Continuing public concern over gene patenting and its impact on medical research and discovery has prompted several US and European initiatives challenging the power of patents. None pose an immediate threat to the biotechnology industry, but lawyers and industry advocates say a groundswell of political support for limits on patent protections, as has occurred in Europe, could eventually undermine biotech companies.

"The mere discussion of this type of legislation—whether it goes anywhere or not—is very unhealthy for our industry," says Lila Feisee director of government relations and intellectual property at the Washington, DC-based Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the biotech industry trade group. "Anything that makes patent protection shaky and unpredictable is a huge problem. It drives investors to other technologies. If there is enough of this stuff happening, you'll see people move away from investing in biotech," says Feisee.

The US Federal Trade Commission and a subcommittee of the US...

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