From the Greek Minotaur to Japanese mermaids, or Ningyo, people across the world have been fascinated with human-animal hybrids for centuries. In more recent years, scientists have tried to make hybrids, previously considered impossible, into a reality. These real, but controversial, hybrids are not yet like the ones in movies. Usually, the scientists’ objective is to introduce human cells into a non-human organism, ensure the cells’ survival, and foster their growth inside the host animal.
With each year that passes, scientists get closer and closer to the possibility of a more “humanized” hybrid. While this is still some time away, scientists created a human-monkey chimera that was viable for 20 days in 2021. Even if we never reach humanized hybrids, many people in the science community would consider even the most simplistic human-animal hybrids to be at least a moral dilemma and at most a clear ethical violation.
The legal community specifically has many unanswered questions concerning these hybrids. As with any other technological or scientific advancement, the creators have the possibility to patent their invention. The Patent-Eligibility Doctrine, 35 USC Section 101, states “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof’’ may be eligible for a patent. Getting a patent for an invention or discovery protects the idea and grants the owner of the patent, typically the inventor, exclusive rights over the invention.
If a scientist is able to invent a method of creating a human-animal hybrid, they could then theoretically patent their method and hold exclusive rights as if it was their land. However, should we be allowed to patent these hybrids? Would it be like owning a patent to an animal or a human, or is it completely different because the invention is a hybrid?
There is already a precedent of living human-made organisms being patentable. If the hybrid organism is artificially constructed and not naturally occurring, courts may uphold their patent eligibility. Some would argue that if an invention is possible, why should it not be patentable? Patents, and IP rights in general, help promote innovation. If someone is able to profit off of your hard-earned invention, why even bother inventing anything in the first place? Patents ensure that the inventor, who worked hard and incurred the costs to make the invention possible, are the only ones able to benefit. Besides, the United States does not consider the morality of an invention on paper when determining patentability. In that case, maybe any moral qualms with human-animal hybrids should not even be considered.
However, others would argue that human-animal hybrids are serious enough to break the mold and consider morality. Many opponents to patenting hybrids would argue that the hybrids would erode species integrity and threaten our human identity. We generally consider human beings to be the most evolved life form on our planet. Combining our cells with animals may seem to be an overstep for some: men are now playing God and disturbing the natural order of things. Even if there are no reservations with the combination of these species, what about the new creation’s reproductive rights? What happens when a human-monkey hybrid reproduces with another human-monkey hybrid? Is this more of a human or more of an animal? We barely have enough information on hybrids themselves, let alone their offspring. Should hybrids even be allowed to reproduce?
These are some of the many issues discussed regarding human-animal hybrids. Technologically, we are advancing every day. Legally, we still have to determine whether or not we can, or should, be able to patent these new creations.
Suggested Citation: Saron Araya, Should Animal-Human Hybrids be Patentable?, Cornell J.L. & Pub. Pol’y, The Issue Spotter (October 10, 2023), http://jlpp.org/blogzine/should-animal-human-hybrids-be-patentable/.