High court throws out human gene patents

(AP) -- The Supreme Court on Monday threw out a lower court ruling allowing human genes to be patented, a topic of enormous interest to cancer researchers, patients and drug makers.

The court overturned patents belonging to Myriad Genetics Inc. of Salt Lake City on two genes linked to increased risk of breast and .

Myriad's BRACAnalysis test looks for mutations on the breast gene, or BRCA. Those mutations are associated with much greater risks of breast and ovarian cancer.

The has been arguing that genes couldn't be patented, a position taken by a but overturned on appeal.

The justices' decision sends the case back down for a continuation of the battle between the scientists who believe that genes carrying the secrets of life should not be exploited for commercial gain and companies that argue that a patent is a reward for years of expensive research that moves science forward.

In 2010, a federal judge ruled that genes cannot be patented. U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet said he invalidated the patents because DNA's existence in an isolated form does not alter the fundamental quality of DNA as it exists in the body nor the information it encodes.

But last year, a divided panel of the in Washington that handles patent cases reversed Sweet's ruling. The appeals court said genes can be patented because the isolated DNA has a "markedly different chemical structure" from DNA within the body.

The Supreme Court threw out that decision, and sent the case back to the lower courts for rehearing. The high court said it sent the case back for rehearing because of its decision in another case last week saying that the laws of nature are unpatentable.

In that case, the court unanimously threw out patents on a Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., test that could help doctors set for like Crohn's disease.

"The question before us is whether the claims do significantly more than simply describe these natural relations," said Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the opinion in the Prometheus Laboratories case. "To put the matter more precisely, do the patent claims add enough to their statements of the correlations to allow the processes they describe to qualify as patent-eligible processes that apply natural law? We believe the answer to this question is no."

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been awarding patents on for almost 30 years.

Testing for mutations in the so-called BRCA genes has been around for just over a decade. Women with a faulty gene have a three to seven times greater risk of developing and a higher risk of ovarian cancer.

Men can also carry a BRCA mutation, raising their risk of prostate, pancreatic and other types of cancer. The mutations are most common in people of eastern European Jewish descent.

Myriad Genetics Inc. sells the only BRCA gene test.

The case is Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, 11-725.

5 /5 (3 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US judge strikes down patent on cancer genes

Mar 29, 2010

(AP) -- In a ruling with potentially far-reaching implications for the patenting of human genes, a judge on Monday struck down a company's patents on two genes linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Myriad can patent breast cancer genes: US court

Jul 30, 2011

A federal appeals court on Friday ruled in favor of Myriad Genetics after a legal battle over whether the US company could keep its patent on genes linked to an inherited form of breast cancer.

Court Denies Vonage Bid for Patent Case Retrial

May 04, 2007

A U.S. appeals court denies a request by Internet phone company Vonage Holdings that it order a retrial in the patent infringement case brought against it by Verizon Communications.

Recommended for you

New research software automates DNA analysis

Oct 20, 2014

At the core of medical research is problem-solving, which is exactly what two PhD scientists did when they set out to eliminate a common, time-consuming task performed in research laboratories around the world.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tausch
not rated yet Mar 27, 2012
...the laws of nature are unpatentable.


Complete the above reasoning.

You can not patent stars, planets or the universe.
You can not patent nature.

One law of Nature is entropy - all gradients thereof.
None of the gradients of entropy are patentable.
No capital gain from any gradient of entropy.

By law you may patent immortality.
Immortality is without entropy.

By law you may patent anything without entropy - God, for example.
By law you may not patent intellect.
Intellect contains entropy.
Entropy is a law of Nature.