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ANZ Health Policy

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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 37(3)

Do patents impede the provision of genetic tests in Australia?

Dianne Nicol A B and John Liddicoat A

A Law Faculty, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 89, Hobart, Tas. 7001, Australia.
B Corresponding author. Email: dianne.nicol@utas.edu.au

Australian Health Review 37(3) 281-285 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/AH13029
Submitted: 8 February 2013  Accepted: 22 March 2013   Published: 24 May 2013

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Objective. Health policy and law reform agencies lack a sound evidence base of the impacts of patents on innovation and access to healthcare to assist them in their deliberations. This paper reports the results of a survey of managers of Australian genetic testing laboratories that asked a series of questions relating to the tests they perform, whether they pay to access patented inventions and whether they have received notifications from patent holders about patents associated with particular tests.

Results. Some diagnostics facilities are exposed to patent costs, but they are all located in the private sector. No public hospitals reported paying licence fees or royalties beyond those included in the price of commercial test kits. Some respondents reported having received enforcement notices from patent holders, but almost all related to the widely known breast cancer-associated patents. Respondents were also asked for their views on the most effective mechanisms to protect their ability to provide genetic tests now and in the future. Going to the media, paying licence fees, ignoring patent rights and relying on the government to take action were widely seen as most effective. Litigation and applications for compulsory licences were seen as some of the least effective mechanisms.

Conclusion. These results provide an evidence base for development of health policy and law reform.

What is known about the topic? The impact of patents on the delivery of genetic testing services remains unclear in Australia.

What does this paper add? The survey reported in this paper suggests that, aside from well-known enforcement actions relating to the breast cancer associated patents, there is little evidence that providers of genetic testing services are being exposed to aggressive patent-enforcement practices.

What are the implications for practitioners? Although patent-enforcement actions may increase in the future, a range of strategies are available to providers of testing services to protect them against adverse consequences of such actions. There are ongoing law reform activities aimed at improving these strategies.


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