Avoid statements, beat Venter at his own game

September 24, 1999

There seems to be little governments can do to stop Craig Venter and other genome capitalists making hefty royalties from human genes. This week the British and US governments are planning to do what they do best - issue a statement. But it will fall far short of preventing Venter's company, Celera, and indeed other entrepreneurs, from turning our genes into royalties from drug companies, universities and others.

At present the field seems to be clear for Venter to patent interesting genes and their effects, and charge for their use. His prices may discourage both academic research and small company start-ups.

Despite Celera's big backers, there is nothing the firm is doing that others cannot. Venter is trying to attack the most economically interesting bits of the genome, but cannot seize all of it. An open conspiracy among government and researchers to sequence as much as possible and make the results available freely - perhaps after patenting - might be more use than hortatory announcements about the evils of commercialisation.

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