|MadSci Network: Other|
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 question! 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 techniques.
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