MadSci Network: Other

Re: Is it unethical to patent a medical discovery?

Date: Thu Mar 19 09:07:40 1998
Posted By: kathi clement, faculty md, family practice, Univ. of Wyoming
Area of science: Other
ID: 890040929.Ot

Interesting question, Kate.  But, no it isn't unethical to patent a medical 
discovery.  Medical discoveries, whether a drug, device or whatever, take a 
lot of time and money to develop.  Many medical scientists are employed 
with major drug companies, universities, etc.,  and the only way to get some 
of the energy spent back is through patents and further product 
development.  Most products have to go through a tremendous amount of 
screening and revising so that there may be several variations of the 
original idea.  Supposedly, for a "new wonder" drug to hit the market, 
millions (if not more) of dollars are spent on research and development.  
And then it may be a short-lived wonder drug. An example of that was last 
year's anti-obesity drug that helped people lose weight but also caused 
lung and heart problems, many of which may be permanent.  Thanks for the 

Administrators addendum:
There is an area of controversy concerning medical method patents. These are 
patents that cover methods like surgical techniques. The US courts have so far 
allowed these patents, but the medical community has generally condemned them as 
unethical. There is talk about amending the Patent Law so that surgeons cannot 
patent procedural techniques. There is also debate about whether combinations of 
lab tests can be considered new uses of the test. One doctor has patented the 
combination of three tests used to test for Down's syndrome and neural tube 
defects. This patent is being challenged in the courts, but it is probably not 
as widely thought of as unethical as is the method patent on surgical 

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