First ever legal challenge filed against the patenting of an animal


Groups seek to rescind controversial patent on beagle dogs; Poll shows majority of americans oppose patenting animals as inventions

WASHINGTON -- A patent on live beagle dogs was challenged in a legal action filed today by two non-profit organizations seeking to rescind the patent. The American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS) and the PatentWatch Project filed the legal challenge with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In the challenge, the groups urged the Patent Office to cancel Patent # 6,444,872, which covers live beagle dogs and the several methods used to induce a fatal lung infection in them.

"The granting of this patent on dogs, and of hundreds of other patents on animals, shows that the Patent Office is in legal and ethical freefall," says Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) which oversees the PatentWatch Project. "Animals like these beagles are sentient, living beings not patentable machines or products of some institution or corporation. This legal challenge, and the poll numbers showing widespread public opposition to animal patenting, should send a strong message to the Administration and the Patent Office that this patent is neither legally valid nor morally acceptable."

The dogs claimed in the patent are intended for use in experiments. The patent being challenged was issued to the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System in Austin, Texas, and, like many other patents on animals, now appears to be exclusively licensed to a private company.

"We have requested that the Patent and Trademark Office cancel the claims of this beagle patent because neither beagles nor other higher animals fit into any of the statutory categories of patentable subject matter," said PatentWatch Director Peter DiMauro.

Recent changes in U.S. patent law now allow any person to request a reexamination of certain issued patents and participate in the proceedings as they progress through the patent system. Since the Patent and Trademark Office first issued a patent on an animal in 1987, it has accepted nearly 500 patent applications on animals.

However, results from a February Opinion Research Corp. survey of 1,008 U.S. adults commissioned by AAVS found that two out of three people consider it unethical to issue patents on animals as if they were human inventions. Further, 85% of those surveyed were not even aware that governments and corporations are getting patents on animals. "We don't treat our companion animals like we treat our toasters or computers for the obvious reason that they are not inanimate objects," stated Sue Leary, AAVS President. "They are not articles of manufacture, they are not human inventions. Animal patents have no place in our society and are an inappropriate application of U.S. patent law."

In addition, AAVS and PatentWatch are concerned about the incentive that animal patents provide to increase animal suffering. Most animal patents directly include harming, mutilating, killing, and/or genetically altering animals for experimentation, testing, and research. "The patent that AAVS and PatentWatch are challenging involves subjecting beagles to radiation, drugs, and forced infection, resulting in a fatal illness," added Leary.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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