By Donrich Thaldar
No one domain of the law holds exclusive sway over human genomic data. Instead, genomic data have a multidimensional legal nature, meaning that multiple legal domains — including property law, privacy law, contract law, and intellectual property law — are all applicable. This opens the door for different persons to have rights originating in different legal domains with respect to the same genomic data.
To determine who has rights with respect to a particular person’s genomic data, the rules of each relevant legal domain must be applied. The application of these rules to genomic data may be relatively straightforward in some domains, but in property law — which is relevant in determining ownership of genomic data — it is often more complicated. Only a handful of jurisdictions have specifically legislated on the ownership of genomic data. In the absence of such specific legislation that provides who owns genomic data, general property law rules must be applied. (In common law legal systems, and some mixed legal systems where legislation is absent, this would entail resorting to the jurisdiction’s common law.) However, given the novelty of applying property law rules to genomic data, it is not always obvious which of the general rules would apply. In this post, I will share some of my research group’s thinking in this regard. Although our thinking is based in South African law, many of the principles are shared with other legal systems.