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Unpublished Paper
Beyond Recombinant Technology: Synthetic Biology and Patentable Subject Matter
ExpressO (2008)
  • Luigi Palombi, Australian National University

Even though it is not yet clear as a matter of law that isolated biological materials are indeed patentable subject matter, not only have patents over such materials continued to be granted throughout the world, but the European Parliament passed the Biotechnology Directive in 1998 in an attempt to put an end to the debate. The problem is that TRIPS requires that patents be granted for 'inventions' only and there is a real question over whether isolated biological materials or those made by the use of synthetic biology are indeed inventions within the meaning of the word in TRIPS. But technology is rapidly developing. Recently Craig Venter, the man who wanted to patent the human genome, made history again. This time he has built a synthetic bacterium from the ground up - in a laboratory. The bacterium, Mycoplasma genitalium, is a naturally occurring thing. It is the smallest known bacterium consisting of 582,970 nucleotides. Venter's version of this bacterium is identical, except that he made it. Does this make it an invention? Indeed, Venter has in mind to use this synthetic bacterium and other synthetic biological materials as vectors within which to insert genetic material that is foreign to that organism. The idea is to use these vectors to manufacture other biological materials. It's a repeat of Cohen and Boyer's idea, which they also patented, but this time, the vector itself will be a human construct. Is the patent system ready for Venter and his 'invention'?

  • synthetic biology,
  • patentable subject matter,
  • genome,
  • biological materials,
  • patents,
  • science
Publication Date
June 2, 2008
Citation Information
Luigi Palombi. "Beyond Recombinant Technology: Synthetic Biology and Patentable Subject Matter" ExpressO (2008)
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