By Donald Zuhn --
On Sunday, the CBS news program "60 Minutes" examined the issue of gene patenting in a segment entitled "Patented Genes." During the segment, CBS News correspondent Morley Safer interviewed Lisbeth Ceriani and Genae Girard, who were recently diagnosed with breast cancer and who are plaintiffs in the Association of Molecular Pathology v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office case that was decided a week ago (see "Round One Goes to the ACLU"); Professor Lori Andrews of the Chicago-Kent College of Law in Chicago; Dr. Aubrey Milunsky, Co-Director for the Center for Human Genetics and Professor of Human Genetics, Pediatrics, Pathology, and Obstetrics & Gynecology at the Boston University School of Medicine; Patent Docs author Dr. Kevin Noonan, a partner with McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP; and Chris Hansen, Senior National Staff Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and co-counsel for plaintiffs in AMP v. USPTO. In view of the individuals Mr. Safer chose to interview for the segment, it should really come as no surprise that "60 Minutes" failed to provide viewers with an objective report on the issue.
During the segment, which clocked in at just over thirteen and a half minutes, Mr. Safer devoted about three and a half minutes to Ms. Ceriani's and Ms. Girard's stories, and about a minute and a half each to Prof. Andrews, Dr. Milunsky, Dr. Noonan, and Mr. Hansen. The position of the plaintiffs and their counsel was not unexpected, but joining them in opposing gene patenting were Prof. Andrews and Dr. Milunsky. Patent Docs readers may recall that in December of 2006, Prof. Andrews and author Michael Critchton spoke out against gene patents in a Parade.com article (see "Gene Patenting in the News Again"). And during Dr. Milunsky's portion of the "60 Minutes" segment, the Boston University researcher discussed how he had been prevented from performing genetic analysis on a number of genes that had been patented by biotech companies. If "60 Minutes" returns to the issue (for example, if and when the AMP v. USPTO case is appealed), one hopes that its panel of interviewees will be more balanced and the reporting more fair.
"60 Minutes" could, for example, take a cue from the manner in which the PBS "Newshour" covered the story last Friday in a segment entitled "Can Genes Be Patented? Ruling Reignites Debate." Instead of tipping the scales decidedly in favor of the AMP plaintiffs, "Newshour" host Jeffrey Brown discussed the issue of gene patenting with Daniel Ravicher, the executive director of the Public Patent Foundation (PubPat) and co-counsel for plaintiffs in AMP v. USPTO, and Dr. Kenneth Chahine, a visiting professor of law at the University of Utah and former President and Chief Executive Officer at Avigen. And while the "Newshour" afforded Mr. Ravicher just under three and a half minutes to state his case, Dr. Chahine received almost three minutes to defend gene patenting. Mr. Brown, who did not reveal his own position on the issue, also did a commendable job of questioning both individuals.
The "60 Minutes" and "Newshour" segments can be viewed below: