Communications Department

Biotechnology Lobby Opposes Weldon Amendment, Seeks Open Door to Patents on Human Embryos

Nov 11, 2003 | Human Patenting

By Douglas Johnson
NRLC Legislative Director
November 11, 2003

NRLC strongly supports the Weldon Amendment, a provision of the appropriations bill for the departments of Commerce, Justice, State, and certain other agencies (H.R. 2799), passed by the House last July. The Weldon Amendment would prohibit patents from being granted on human embryos or fetuses, including cloned human embryos or fetuses.

The Weldon Amendment would bar the U.S. Patent Office from issuing any patent on any “human organism,” meaning a member of the human species at any stage of development, including a human embryo or fetus. This “non-patentability” would cover members of the species Homo sapiens who are created by human cloning, by in vitro fertilization, or by any other process.

A patent is, of course, a government-conferred property right. It is a violation of fundamental human rights, including the right to life, to confer such property rights over a member of the human family. Indeed, the U.S. Patent Office itself has suggested that any patent on a human being would violate the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits human slavery. But others dispute that position, and it is not at all clear that a federal court would allow the Patent Office to deny a patent for a cloned human embryo, unless Congress acts now to clarify the law.

We agree with what President Bush said in his April 10, 2002 speech on human cloning: “Life is a creation, not a commodity. Our children are gifts to be loved and protected, not products to be designed and manufactured.”

The biotech industry’s push to begin human cloning raises particularly acute concerns about turning humans into patented property. In early 2002, the magazine National Journal ran a detailed article on the desire of some biotechnology firms patent cloned human embryos as “medical models. See

In recent weeks, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) has circulated a memo opposing the Weldon Amendment that confirms the industry’s desire to seek patents on any human organisms that are created through “human intervention” (or “the hand of man”), which could include human embryos with any genetic modifications whatever, including any cloned embryo.

In a letter dated September 11, BIO further underscores the industry’s desire to patent cloned human embryos, complaining that the Weldon Amendment “would preclude the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) from granting patents on an organism of human species at any stage of development produced by any method, [or] a living organism made by human cloning . . .” That part of BIO’s description of the Weldon Amendment is accurate – but BIO has also claimed that the amendment would ban patents on stem cells, genes, and cell and tissue therapy products, none of which is true.

Under BIO’s theory of patent law, patents could be issued on the occupants of what President Bush has called “human embryo farms,” and also on the occupants of future “human fetus farms,” in which cloned human fetuses would be grown to provide desired tissues or organs using artificial or animal uteruses. BIO disingenuously proclaims that the industry does not desire to patent a “human being,” but it requires no very sophisticated analysis to discern that here they mean the term “human being” to apply only to born humans, and only to those who have been conceived and gestated by entirely natural means.

The Weldon Amendment stands for the principle that human life is not a commodity, and that a member of the human family can never be regarded as a mere human invention. Enactment of the Weldon Amendment would be an important bulwark against some of the darker trends in contemporary biotechnology research.

Categories: Human Patenting