Who owns your genes? It may seem like a strange question because the answer is so obvious--you do, of course. After all, you own your physical body, so why wouldn't you own the DNA contained in each of your cells?
But that simple, straightforward assessment might not be correct. It turns out that many different parties have laid claim to the genes that make you, you. Corporations, universities and their lawyers have argued for years that the 25,000 genes in the human genome are each microscopic pieces of intellectual property that can be discovered and then patented by the institution that made the discovery.
My guest today says the answer is somewhere in between, however. Philosopher and legal scholar Dr. David Koepsell claims that you don't exclusively own your genes, but neither do the scientists or corporations that say DNA is intellectual property. The human genome, Koepsell argues, belongs to the commons-by-necessity. Much like sunlight or oxygen, the genetic code is naturally occurring. We all have access to it as a result but we can't claim DNA as our property and prevent others from accessing it.
David is the author of Who Owns You? The Corporate Gold Rush to Patent Your Genes and the founder of EncrypGen, a startup dedicated to expanding genomics research while helping consumers maintain their autonomy. The company "...is harnessing blockchain technology to return the ownership of genomic data to individuals and to empower you to control who and what gets access to your data..."
Naturally Occurring Genes and the Commons By Necessity
Episode 23: Patents and Paywalls: How IP Stifles Scientific Innovation: Stephan Kinsella