The House Judiciary Committee is expected to pass legislation today that would give university researchers and small farmers special exemptions from patent laws regulating genetically-altered animals.
Sponsored by Rep. Robert W. Kastenmeier (D-Wis.), the pending legislation would enable university researchers to freely use patented animals for non-commercial purposes without having to fear lawsuits for patent infringement.
The proposed legislation could significantly affect a patent granted to Andrus Professor of Genetics Philip Leder '56, who was at the center of a national controversy this spring after Harvard received the exclusive marketing rights for the genetically-altered strain of mice he created to do cancer research. It was the first animal patent.
While the bill would allow Leder's patent to remain valid, he would be unable to draw any profit from its use by other university researchers. Leder was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Since the dramatic announcement of Leder's patent in April, the House has been struggling to come to grips with the ramifications of the patenting of animals.
Last month, a bill sponsored by Rep. Charles Rose (D-N.C.), which would have imposed a two-year moratorium on animal patenting and revoked the Harvard patent, was defeated by the House Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties and the Administration of Justice.
A different version of the Rose bill will be offered as an amendment today by Rep. Bruce Morrison (D-Conn.) which would delay the granting of animal patents until a federal regulatory agency is set up with the jurisdiction over such patenting. The Morrison amendment, however, would keep Leder's patent intact.
While aides to the subcommittee say that the Morrison amendment is unlikely to pass, proponents of the clause say it is necessary to ensure that the government adequately monitors potential health and environmental dangers that genetically-altered animals may pose.
Proponents say that neither bill is anti-science or anti-animal research. They argue that Congress must now come to grips with the rapidly exploding field of biotechnology and safeguard the public from its potential dangers.
"We've got to come to a dialogue on this before it comes back to haunt us," said Paul Drolet, a legislative aide to Morrison. "This is an area where people are only beginning to think of the implications."
Harvard officials said that they had not studied the proposed legislation and could not comment on it. Leder and Vice President for Government and Community Affairs John Shattuck had both expressed opposition to the Rose bill, on the grounds that it would hamper important research by discouraging corporations from providing financial backing.
"We feel that [patents for animals] are generally a good idea, that they encourage support for research that might otherwise not be there," Director ofGovernmental Relations for Health Policy Jane H.Corlette said yesterday. "We hope that nothingwould happen that would hinder research."
The other major provision of the Kastenmeierbill would allow farmers with incomes under$500,000 a year to use patented,genetically-altered animals for breeding purposeson the farm. However, the legislation wouldcontinue to deny this exemption to those farmerswhose occupation is the reproduction of farmanimals.
The provision protecting small farmers wasincluded "because of the potential impact [ofpatenting animals] on the structure of theagricultural industry," said an aide toKastenmeier
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