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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7154


Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) (3:03 PM) —Senator Murphy asked me a question yesterday about the patenting of human biotechnology products. I seek leave to incorporate the answer in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The answer read as follows:

Answer to Questions by Senator Murphy on 3 December 2002.

The patent system rewards useful innovation by providing patent owners with the exclusive right to exploit their invention for a limited period in return for publicly disclosing the innovation. In deciding whether or not a patent should be granted, IP Australia which encompasses the Patent Office, examines whether the invention concerned is new, inventive and useful. There are no specific requirements for considering human interest and public health implications when assessing patent claims.

In Australia, biotechnology inventions are patentable, provided the invention meets the requirements of the Patents Act. The raw data obtained from the mapping of the human genome, that is the total human DNA, is not patentable. However, patents may be granted for inventions involving human DNA and gene fragments or human cell lines that are new, inventive and useful. Not all inventions in the field of biotechnology are patentable. Subsection 18(2) of the Patents Act expressly excludes the patenting of human beings and the biological processes for their generation.

The Government recognises that patenting in the human biotechnology area is both a sensitive and important issue, raising fundamental concerns that include moral and ethical issues, the impact on freedom of research in Australia and ensuring Australians have access to the latest health technology and health care. Without patent protection, neither foreign nor Australian enterprises will be encouraged to manufacture medical innovations and make them available in Australia.

In light of recent concerns regarding patenting in the human biotechnology area the Government is giving active consideration to a review of this issue. The Government is currently considering the Terms of Reference for a review to be conducted by the Australian Law Reform Commission on gene patenting.