Open Access

Inventing Oncomice: making natural animal, research tool and invention cohere

Genomics, Society and Policy20084:21

DOI: 10.1186/1746-5354-4-2-21

Published: 15 August 2008

Abstract

This paper examines how the oncomouse became a patentable invention. The oncomouse began life in the laboratory, where it was genetically modified for use as a research tool to assist with the study of human cancer. Its design, a product of genetic modification, made the oncomouse potentially patentable subject matter. The United States was the first jurisdiction to award the patent and several others followed. However, the question of animal patenting was most contentious in Europe and Canada. In this paper I examine debates about animal patenting within the legal and moral spaces created by United States, European and Canadian patent law, focusing on differences that emerged in each case. I argue that oncomouse as a patentable invention was made possible and acceptable as different ways of being mouse as natural animal, research tool and invention were made to cohere: that is as they were made to overlap and depend upon one another. In the paper I use the term "cohere" to describe the logic of animal patenting that emerged with, and was essential to, the outcome in each jurisdiction. I describe an ontological politics of connecting and separating different ways of being mouse, as the oncomouse's genetic modification, risks, benefits, and suffering were juxtaposed with patent law, precedent, laboratory protocols, and understandings of human agency and control. As connections and separations were made, a relation, "natural animal-research tool-invention", was established, and logic of animal patenting emerged: but differently each case.