Letter: Patenting the mouse

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Sir: Susan Watts's article ('Backlash blocks 'invention' of animals', 30 November) reports a ground swell against the patenting of genetically modified animals. This is fed by opinions such as that expressed by Peter Stevenson of Compassion in World Farming, whose farming objectives I broadly support, that 'genetic engineering nearly always (my emphasis) imposes pain and stress on the newly created animals'.

We can see no behavioural or physiological sign of pain or stress in the sheep which Pharmaceutical Proteins genetically modified so that they produce life-saving therapeutics in their milk. Other research groups are working with the objective of genetically modifying farm animals so as to confer on them resistance to specific diseases which, if successful, will have the potential to reduce pain and stress.

By campaigning against patents on such animals when they are the result of novel, useful invention, the lobby groups may be about to 'score an own goal'.

If patents are allowed on animals, the use of such animals is thereby restricted to the inventor and/or its (known) licensees. This use can be policed. If the Upjohn mouse is not patent protected, anyone can use this technology without reference to Upjohn or anyone else, and this could paradoxically result in greater use. In the most extreme case, a 'painful' exploitation of a particular end result may be refused a patent and therefore become widely used, while an 'acceptable' exploitation could be afforded protection and its use thereby restricted to the inventor.

This ultimate illogicality may serve to illustrate that the patent system is the wrong battleground for this debate. All inventive, novel, useful developments in any field should be patentable, but undesirable use and exploitation of animals should be controlled through existing and, if necessary, new specific animal welfare legislation which is knowledgeably applied on a case-by-case basis.

Yours faithfully,


Managing Director

Pharmaceutical Proteins Ltd


2 December