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As public and private sector initiatives race to complete the sequence of the human genome, patent issues have played a prominent role in speculations about the significance of this achievement. How much of the genome will be subject to the control of patent holders, and what will this mean for future research and the development of products for the improvement of human health? Is a patent system developed to establish rights in mechanical inventions of an earlier era up to the task of resolving competing claims to the genome on behalf of the many sequential innovators who elucidate its sequence and function, with due regard to the interests of the scientific community and the broader public?