Malpractice News

June 15, 2013

Human gene patenting barred by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that “human genes may not be patented.” The legality of patenting was brought to the forefront by Utah-based company Myriad Genetics which held patents on the identity of genes that may indicate a heightened risk of hereditary ovarian and breast cancers. Outside scientists and doctors said that this limitation to their access was short circuiting their research.

Creation not discovery necessary for patent

With this new ruling, the cost of genetic testing for some previously patented genes should go down, but so will the interest investors have in funding that type of genetic research. Justice Clarence Thomas explained the court’s ruling, saying, “Myriad did not create anything. To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.”

Decision to influence future of genetics

This decision will likely shape future decisions regarding gene and DNA testing. It has drawn a sharp line between naturally occurring DNA and lab-created DNA, also known as complementary or cDNA. This protection of cDNA is a partial victory for those companies interested in investing in genetic research.

The discovery Myriad Genetics made was the location of genes BRCA1 and BRCA2; they did not create the genes themselves. Thus, Justice Thomas said, though the discovery was “groundbreaking, innovative, or even brilliant” it was not eligible for patent.


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