Thursday, June 13, 2013

SCOTUS Stops Human Genome Patents

SCOTUS: No, you cannot patent naturally-occuring human genes
In Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, all nine SCOTUS justices ruled that scientists cannot patent naturally-occurring human DNA, but struck some middle ground by adding that synthetically-created DNA — or cDNA — does indeed fall into the realm of patentable material. Via the NYT, the case concerned patents held by Utah-based Myriad Genetics for genes that correlate with the increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer that were being challenged by rights groups arguing that companies should not be able to lock up the uses of new DNA that could benefits patients if it was made widely available...
The Supreme Court long ago ruled that an inventor who discovers a phenomenon in nature, or figures out a “law of nature,” cannot get an exclusive right to use or sell that by obtaining a patent from the federal government. Natural phenomena are the basic tools with which every would-be inventor starts, so locking up the right to use them in a monopoly held by a specific patent owner will frustrate others who might want to look for new ways to interpret that phenomena, the Court has said.

The exclusion of natural substances from eligibility for patents was the theory on which the Court relied Thursday in its unanimous ruling that a company cannot get a patent monopoly on the use and study of human genes that it isolates in the bloodstream, and them takes them out — without changing their natural character — for research.
I think this is a pretty good decision; it encourages research into human DNA without allowing people to "lock up" whole sections of it for their proprietary use, but if they create something new out of it, that can be patented, a proper stimulus for research and invention.  The unanimous decision was authored by Justice Thomas. But then, it was also supported by the Obama administration.  Some things really are beyond politics.

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