U.S. Supreme Court forbids human genes from being patented
Giving a jolt to medical and biotechnology industries, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that companies cannot patent parts of naturally-occurring human genes.
This judgment reverses three decades of patent awards by government officials. It dismisses patents held by Myriad Genetics Inc. (MGI) on an increasingly popular breast cancer test brought into the public eye recently by actress Angelina Jolie’s disclosure that she went through double mastectomy because of one of the genes involved in this case.
MGI has developed a test popular as BRAC Analysis test by using the patent of a BRCA gene it had isolated which is linked to breast and ovarian cancer. The test looks for mutations on the breast cancer predisposition gene, or BRCA. MGI sells the only BRCA gene test. Opponents of its patents say the company can use the patents to keep other researchers from working with the BRCA gene to develop other tests.
Why the court threw out MGI patent BRCA?
The court held that it was against patent rules. The court has said that laws of nature, natural phenomena and abstract ideas are not patentable. It held that a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it had been isolated. However, the court clarified that a synthetically created DNA, known as cDNA, could be patented.
What are the counter views?
Companies have billions of dollars of investment and years of research on the line in this case. Their advocates argue that without the ability to recoup their investment through the profits that patents bring, breakthrough scientific discoveries to combat all kinds of medical illnesses wouldn’t happen.