The idea of a “Brave New World” still causes great consternation as we try to grapple with the role of science and technology in our lives. Most Americans hail the hope biotechnology promises for medical treatments but abhor the abuse of science for unethical and immoral purposes, such as cloning, destructive embryonic stem cell research and the patenting of human organisms.
Since 1987, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has maintained a longstanding policy that forbids the patenting of human organisms. Congress, since 2004, has ensured this policy remains in effect by passing each year the Weldon amendment to the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) appropriations bill. Doing so gives the policy force of law during the fiscal year it’s in effect.
This pro-life amendment became an issue earlier this year when Congress began to debate The America Invents Act, which deals with patent reform. The America Invents Act would have authorized the USPTO to raise and spend its own fees separate and apart from the annual spending bills. The bill, as written, would have eliminated congressional oversight over the USPTO thus negating the Weldon amendment, since patent funds would not have been appropriated under CJS. Recognizing the serious implications to life, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) worked with pro-life groups like Concerned Women for America to ensure the Weldon amendment was part of the patent reform legislation passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by the president on September 16.
While there was little fanfare surrounding the president’s signing the patent reform legislation, this is a huge victory! It is one of the first times a major pro-life rider has been codified since Roe v. Wade.