Objectives: The paper explores the attempt by an American biotechnology company, Myriad Genetics, to use its patent rights over the BRCA genes to transfer its technology of genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer to Britain. It also investigates the responses of British scientists, health care professionals and patient advocates to this attempted technology transfer. Methods: This paper is based on approximately 100 in-depth interviews, document analysis and ethnographic observation conducted in the United States and Britain from 1998 to 2001. Results: The BRCA gene patents inspired political resistance and mobilized opposition to the patenting of genes in general. They also provided an opportunity for the British to assert their national identity as they argued that a British BRCA testing service needed to be available within the context of the National Health Service to all citizens equally. Conclusions: Patents are not only legal documents and technical descriptions, but political tools as well. As they are increasingly deemed vital to economic globalization, patents have become mobilizing tools for anti-globalization activists and non-governmental organizations from less developed countries, and for asserting local and national identities.

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