§ Lord Kennet
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they have considered the implications of the patent recently awarded in the United States to the US National Institutes of Health (purporting to cover the principle of removing cells from a patient, altering their genetic make-up and returning them to the patient's body); and what steps, if any, they are taking to secure its reversal.
The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Earl Ferrers)
The patent in question does not raise any new ethical concerns, since it relates to somatic gene therapy. The Government are aware that some commentators consider that the claims of the patent are too broad to be valid. It must be remembered, however, that an application for this invention was originally filed in 1989 and five and half years elapsed before publication at the time of issue, during which genetic manipulation techniques have developed rapidly. This long period of secrecy is unsatisfactory and we are supporting moves towards international harmonisation of patent law which would ensure that pending applications are made public no more than two years after the filing date. The Government are not planning to take any action in relation to the patent itself but it is open to anyone who feels that the patent should not have been granted to seek re-examination. US patents do not have any effect in the United Kingdom and patents for methods of treatment as such are not granted here.