Most scientists know about the Harvard "Oncomouse," and you can even buy one (subject to the appropriate government licenses) under the Oncomouse® trademark ( In the early 1990s this transgenic creature, engineered to be susceptible to cancer, would regularly make headlines and prompt heartfelt discussions on the ethics of the patenting system.

The European Patent Office (EPO) granted the Oncomouse patent to DuPont in 1992, despite opposition by animal rights groups who charged it was cruel to engineer an animal to die a painful death. The EPO ruled that the public benefit of the transgenic mouse outweighed its suffering. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection opposed the patent, and the EPO resumed opposition proceedings that dragged on for nine years. On Nov. 7, 2001 the EPO opposition division finally issued a patent in amended form for the engineered animal. Although the decision is subject to appeal,...

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