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J Mol Diagn. 2003 Feb;5(1):3-8.

Effects of patents and licenses on the provision of clinical genetic testing services.

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Center for Biomedical Ethics, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, USA.


The growth of patents that include genetic sequences has been accompanied by concern about their impact on the ability of physicians to provide clinical genetic testing services and to perform research. Therefore, we conducted a survey of clinical laboratory directors that perform DNA-based genetic tests to examine potential effects. We performed a telephone survey between July and September in 2001 of all laboratory directors in the United States who were members of the Association for Molecular Pathology or who were listed on the GENETESTS:org website. One hundred thirty-two of 211 (63%) laboratory directors were interviewed. Ten of these were excluded because they did not conduct DNA-based genetic tests. Almost all performed genetic tests for clinical purposes. Half performed tests for research purposes as well. Twenty-five percent of respondents reported that they had stopped performing a clinical genetic test because of a patent or license. Fifty-three percent of respondents reported deciding not to develop a new clinical genetic test because of a patent or license. In total, respondents were prevented from performing 12 genetic tests, and all of these tests were among those performed by a large number of laboratories. We found 22 patents that were relevant to the performance of these 12 tests. Fifteen of the 22 patents (68%) are held by universities or research institutes, and 13 of the 22 patents (59%) were based on research funded by the United States Government. Overall, respondents reported that their perceptions of the effects of patents on the cost, access, and development of genetic tests, or data sharing among researchers, were negative. In contrast, most respondents felt that patents did not have an effect on the quality of testing. We conclude that patents and licenses have had a significant effect on the ability of clinical laboratories to develop and provide genetic tests. Furthermore, our findings suggest that clinical geneticists feel that their research is inhibited by patents. The effects of patents and licenses on patients' access to tests, and the costs and quality thereof, remains to be determined.

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