Court Overturns Gene Patenting Case

From the NY Times:

United States District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet issued a 152-page decision, which invalidated seven patents related to the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, whose mutations have been associated with cancer.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York joined with individual patients and medical organizations to challenge the patents last May: they argued that genes, products of nature, fall outside of the realm of things that can be patented.

Judge Sweet, however, ruled that the patents were “improperly granted” because they involved a “law of nature.” He said that many critics of gene patents considered the idea that isolating a gene made it patentable “a ‘lawyer’s trick’ that circumvents the prohibition on the direct patenting of the DNA in our bodies but which, in practice, reaches the same result.”

Myriad Genetics sells a test costing more than $3,000 that looks for mutations in the two genes to determine if a woman is at a high risk of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Plaintiffs in the case had said Myriad’s monopoly on the test, conferred by the gene patents, kept prices high and prevented women from getting a confirmatory test from another laboratory.

Chris Hansen, an A.C.L.U. staff lawyer, said: “The human genome, like the structure of blood, air or water, was discovered, not created. There is an endless amount of information on genes that begs for further discovery, and gene patents put up unacceptable barriers to the free exchange of ideas.”


My thoughts:

The patenting of genes originates from a 1979 Supreme Court ruling involving a genetically-engineered bacterium used to clean up oil spills. The key word here is ‘genetically-engineered’ aka created. The genes patented in this case (and in most every other situation) already exist on the genome and are simply uncovered by scientists/researchers. Patents are for items that are invented, and naturally ocurring genes do not apply.

Myriad Genetic and other corps have argued that not allowing them to patent genes would ‘stifle’ inovation. In truth, it allowed them to extort $3000 grand from consumers to test for the possibly life-threatening gene, and prohibited anyone else from creating a similar test. Who cares about women’s health when there’s money to be made, right?

Update: Statement from National Society of Genetic Counselors

One reply on “Court Overturns Gene Patenting Case”

My tissue was taken from me in 1988 and the cell line, MCF10, was developed from it. A patent was filed, and approved. The Detroit Free Press did a article on me Feb.20TH,2011. It is difficult to understand how anyone can patent my body. I am pleased that the courts have ruled on the gene issue.
Not only do I have any ownership of my cells, I have no input on any aspect of the use of them. My cells are now being sold for $279 (research), and $6000 (commercial).
How sad that my cells cannot be shared with the research community without any restrictions. Things are finally beginning to change. I'm greatful.

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