Supreme Court Rules Human Genes Cannot Be Patented
This morning, in a case challenging patents held by the Utah-based Myriad Genetics, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that human genes may not be patented.
Initially, the patents had been challenged by scientists and doctors who said that the patents hindered their ability to help patients.
The decision hewed closely to the position of the Obama administration, which had argued that isolated DNA could not be patented, but that complementary DNA, or cDNA, which is an artificial construct, could. The patentability of cDNA could limit some of the impact on industry from the decision.
The central question for the justices in the case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, No. 12-398, was whether isolated genes are “products of nature” that may not be patented or “human-made inventions” eligible for patent protection.
Myriad’s discovery of the precise location and sequence of the genes at issue, BRCA1 and BRCA2, did not qualify, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court. “A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated,” he said. “It is undisputed that Myriad did not create or alter any of the genetic information encoded in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.”
“Groundbreaking, innovative or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the criteria” for patent eligibility, he said.
But manipulating a gene to create something not found in nature, Justice Thomas added, is an invention eligible for patent protection. He also left the door open for other ways for companies to profit from their research.
They may patent the methods of isolating genes, he said. “But the processes used by Myriad to isolate DNA were well understood by geneticists, ” Justice Thomas wrote. He added that companies may also obtain patents on new applications of knowledge gained from genetic research.
Source: NY Times