Just like toasters, clocks, and other inanimate objects, animals are being patented as inventions in the United States. Private companies, universities, and individual ‘bioentrepreneurs’ have been granted over 660 patents on animals such as chimpanzees, monkeys, rabbits, mice, cats, dogs, and pigs who have been ‘altered’ in some way, creating an incentive to profit from harming animals. It is our position at AAVS, however, that it is an unethical and inappropriate use of the patent system to issue patents for sentient beings.
What is an Animal Patent?
Until 1980, the USPTO had prohibited the patenting of living organisms. Organisms were considered “products of nature,” and thus not patentable. That changed, unfortunately, when the U.S. Supreme Court considered an appeal of a denied patent application for an oil-eating bacterium. By a vote of 5-4, the Court ruled that the “relevant distinction is not between living and inanimate things, but whether living products could be seen as ‘human-made inventions.'” Some years later, after deciding that genetically modified oysters could be patentable ‘subject matter,’ the USPTO in 1987 announced, without Congressional backing, that it “now considers nonnaturally occurring, nonhuman, multicellular living organisms, including animals, to be patentable subject matter.”
Patents Can Be Challenged
The U.S. Patent Law was changed in 1999 so that challenges to any newly-issued patent can be submitted by any person or organization to the USPTO, and any challengers can now participate in the proceedings. If a challenger is dissatisfied with the decision of the USPTO, an appeal can be made to the Federal Circuit Court, and possibly, the Supreme Court. As part of our Stop Animal Patents campaign, AAVS has successfully challenged two animal patents to date. AAVS’s successes in overturning animal patents will help bring attention to the fact that animal patents are neither legally valid nor morally acceptable, and will hopefully bring an end to a system that treats animals as if they were human inventions.