Decoding Gene Patents in Australia

Date: 2014-10-30
Author: Adam Denley

Patents directed to naturally occurring genetic material, such as DNA, RNA, chromosomes, and genes, in an isolated or purified form have been granted in Australia for many years. This review provides scientists with a summary of the gene patent debate from an Australian perspective and specifically reviews how the various levels of the legal system as they apply to patents—the Australian Patent Office, Australian courts, and Australian government— have dealt with the issue of whether genetic material is proper subject matter for a patent.

Australia has long fostered an environment that encourages both basic and applied scientific research that has led to the development of a research community that consistently ranks high against a range of international benchmarks for productivity and quality.1 In line with this, Australia has a patent system that provides a framework for securing rights in inventions arising from scientific research.

Australia has a long history of taking a generous view to the types of things that can be patented. Both the Australian Patent Office (APO) and Australian courts have acknowledged that excluding certain types of inventions from the patent system may stifle the incentive that patents provide for research, development, and commercialization of technology. Consequently, patents for advances in life sciences research have been sought and regularly granted in Australia. In this environment, certain special interest groups and members of the Australian public have sought to call into question the patentability of various types of genetic material. This has seen the completion of a number of parliamentary reviews and a high-profile court case that is still alive today.

In this review, we consider the following: what is patentable in Australia; how patents directed to genetic material have been considered by the APO; the Myriad court case in Australia; previous proposals for legislative change to restrict patenting on genetic material; and recent changes to the Australian patents legislation. Pg 1/12 Copyright © 2014, Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

Editors: Salim Mamajiwalla and Rochelle Seide

This paper was first published in the Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press on October 3, 2014. Cite this article as Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med doi: 10.1101 / cshperspect.a020909

For a pdf copy of the article please contact:

Adam Denley or Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine




1 For example, as measured by research output (journal publications and citations) over the decade from 2001 to 2010, Australia ranked sixth internationally in terms of citations per publication. And over all disciplines, Australia has produced 15 Nobel laureates, the highest number per head of population of any country. Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research, Final Report, February 2013, 1.4.2.