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The Daily Show on Human Gene Patents

From the Daily Show, host John Oliver and deranged millionaire John Hodgman discuss human gene patents:

All kidding aside, this clip discusses a serious issue of patent law. The very first patent law, 35 U.S.C. § 101, says: "Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor[.]" This doesn't include laws of nature (like E=mc²) or discoveries of natural things (like genes or a type of diamond). Patenting a gene would be like patenting a leaf off a rare, exotic tree — perhaps it took work to locate it, but the tree species itself had already been there for thousands of years. 

Many large companies, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, apply for thousands of patents every year. This is one reason why prescription drugs and medical testing devices are so expensive. Unfortunately for consumers, many of these patents are of questionably quality because they cover slightly modified uses for old drugs or don't cover patentable subject matter.  If low-quality patents like human gene patents can be weeded out, perhaps we can ease the crisis of the ballooning costs of health care in this country. 

What do you think about patents on laws of nature and discoveries of natural things like genes?