WASHINGTON -- Sen. Mark Hatfield on Thursday introducedlegislation mandating a three-year moratorium onbiotechnology patents, and then withdrew it before themeasure was put to a vote as part of a deal negotiated with theSenate leadership.
The Oregon Republican said he is fighting to shift theresponsibility for biotechnology policy making from theadministration to the Congress. Wall Street and the Patent andTrademark Office have by default been given the power todetermine what technologies should be developed, he said in aspeech on the Senate floor.
"Congress, as the elected representatives of the people, mustplay a role in making these important decisions," he said. "I amtroubled, however, that such a monumental policy decision isdestined to fall so squarely on the shoulders of the U.S. PatentOffice.
"The underlying ethical decisions transcend our present laws,particularly our patent laws. It transcends our nationalborders. It transcends the profit motives of the marketplace.The decision to patent is more than a technical question ofpatentability."
Hatfield won concessions in his effort to put in the publicspotlight the ethics and morality of the biotechnology industryand the research that underpins it. Following Hatfield's speech,Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., announced that the Senate willhold two sets of hearings, in the Labor and Human ResourcesCommittee and the patents, copyrights and trademarkssubcommittee of the Judiciary Committee.
The congressional Office of Technology Assessment will beasked to write a report on the ethics and morality ofbiotechnology, and a special committee will be formed toadvise National Institutes of Health Director Bernadine Healyon the merits of the NIH continuing to pursue patent protectionfor gene sequences from the human brain discovered bygovernment scientists.
The actions were the result of negotiations between lawmakersthroughout the week, as a chorus of industry and Bushadministration officials voiced opposition to the proposal. Themeasure was an amendment to the budget reauthorization billfor the NIH.
-- Steve Usdin BioWorld Washington Bureau
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