Canadian and U.S. officials say they have applied for patents on the SARS coronavirus genome in order to create an open field for researchers, not lock down future profits from tests or treatments for the disease. The University of Hong Kong's (UHK) commercial arm, Versitech Ltd., has also applied for a U.S. SARS patent, but North American rivals are voicing suspicion about UHK's motives.

"We're basically trying to preempt the nonsense that has gone on in the past," said Samuel Abraham, director of the technology development office at the British Columbia Cancer Agency in Vancouver, which led the filing for a group of Canadian researchers.

Nonetheless, the Canadian health agency's action touched off an internal debate, with some scientists balking at the idea of potentially reaping profits from the public health threat.

Patents on organisms' whole genomes or specific genes are not uncommon, and they permit patent-holders to charge...

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