April 20, 2010 – Original Source: WIRED
1987: The U.S. Patent and Trademark office announces it will begin accepting patent applications for animals.
A year later, Harvard University was awarded the first such patent — the Oncomouse, a mouse researchers produced to be especially susceptible to getting cancer.
Three decades later, the government has issued about 800 animal patents –- on everything from cats, cattle, chimps, dogs, fish and horses to sheep. They are used in most every field, from cosmetics to medicine. Some even blend humans and animals.
There are pigs with human blood, and rabbit eggs fused with DNA to help crippled mice walk.
The American Anti-Vivisection Society, which staunchly abhors animal patenting, estimates that up to 50 million animals are used in genetic engineering experiments annually in the United States alone — all in a bid to create what the group calls “unnatural new animals.”
The government has rejected some of the most controversial proposed patents, including the “humanzee,” a half man, half chimp. It was denied in 2005 because it was too human.
The patent office’s 1987 decision said the government “now considers non-naturally occurring nonhuman multicellular living organisms, including animals, to be patentable subject matter.”
The move, which has invoked tense ethical debate on both sides of the issue, came seven years after the Supreme Court first recognized as intellectual property genetically modified bacteria that could eat crude oil (.pdf). That decision also paved the way for the patenting of human genes — which hit a legal crossroads last month: A federal judge invalidated a human gene patent, raising doubts about the validity of 2,000 other gene patents.
One of the most controversial approved animal patents centered on the University of Texas’ treatment of beagles. The university won a patent in 2002 to infect the dogs with mold, if they lived through weeks of daily radiation doses. After a public outcry, the university disclaimed the patent in 2004 .
Another controversial approval patented rabbits whose eyes were glued open so researchers could test corneal medications. Four years after the government issued the patents to Biochemical and Pharmacological Laboratories of Japan, they were rescinded in 2009 on grounds of “obviousness.”
Even the methods for cloning animals are patentable, such as the process that produced Dolly, the first cloned mammal, in 1996. Ian Wilmut, who with a team of others cloned the sheep in Scotland, said the protocol would work with humans.
Human cloning would help us multitask in a wired world. How to explain you’ve been cloned on your Facebook profile is another story.