A similar question regarding living organism patents was recently answered by Hans Sauer, Deputy General Counsel for Intellectual Property for the Biotechnology Industry Organization. His response is available here: http://gmoanswers.com/ask/should-uspto-allow-patenting-living-organisms.
A passage from Sauer’s response reads: “To be clear, the USPTO does not award patents on living organisms (and other things) that were merely discovered in nature. The Supreme Court has said that if a new plant were discovered in the wild it would not be patentable, even if it had never before been known by man. On the other hand, a bacterium that was engineered by man to do something it cannot naturally do like digest crude oil is patentable under the same conditions that apply to any other kind of invention. And, of course, the USPTO does not award patents on living organisms even if they were engineered by man unless they are really new, unobvious, and practically useful just like any other invention. The patent law also specifically forbids patents that would encompass a human being (not that anyone would seriously want to apply for such a patent but nonetheless, Congress felt it was worth making the point).”
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