Growing use of diagnostic genetic tests could land NHS doctors and managers in trouble for infringing patents, it has been claimed.
British law recognises patents on the application of DNA discoveries. But doctors developing genetic tests in NHS hospitals tend to pay no heed to intellectual property.
Dr Michael Hopkins, an expert in science and technology policy at the University of Sussex, said: "The fact that they have not been enforced in the UK so far is that generally the amounts of money have been small and many companies shy away from suing hospitals. But as the sums of money increase it's more likely companies will assert their intellectual property rights."
Gail Norbury, consultant clinical scientist at Guy's Hospital in London, maintained that gene patents for medical diagnoses were "unacceptable and unenforceable". "People will find ways around having to pay the patent," she said. "It will be a cat and mouse game. The only people who benefit are the lawyers."