U.S. Supreme Court Prohibits Human Genes From Being Patented
Background on Case
The case involves Myriad Genetics' patents on two genes -- known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 -- associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.
Patient advocates accused Myriad of blocking genetic research and clinical testing (Stohr et al,Â Bloomberg, 6/13).
Supreme Court's Ruling
In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the genes Myriad isolated are products of nature, which are not eligible for patents (Kendall/Braun,Â Wall Street Journal, 6/13). However, the justices did say Myriad could patent genes that have been modified after being extracted from the body (Wolf,Â USA Today, 6/13).Â
The ruling overturned a divided appeals court opinion that broadly allowed gene-related patents. Lower court judges had noted that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted companies patents on DNA sequencing for 30 years (Wall Street Journal, 6/13). Eight justices joined the majority opinion, while Justice Antonin Scalia filed an opinion concurring in part with the majority opinion (Supreme Court ruling, 6/13).Â
Implications of Ruling
According toÂ USA Today, the ruling represents a victory for physicians, patients and scientists who argued that allowing a single company to patent the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes raised costs and interfered with medical research (USA Today, 6/13). Because of those patents, Myriad for years has been the sole provider of genetic tests assessing the risk for breast and ovarian cancers (Wall Street Journal, 6/13).
However, the ruling also marks a compromise that seems to have emerged during oral arguments in the case,Â USA TodayÂ reports.
Several conservative justices noted that completely invalidating patent rights could chill investments by other biotechnology companies and limit progress on research (USA Today, 6/13).During the arguments, Justice Stephen Breyer said, "On the one hand, we do want people to invent; on the other hand, we're very worried about them tying up some kind of whatever it is, particularly a thing that itself could be used for further advance" (Wall Street Journal, 6/13). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.