High court throws out human gene patents

March 26, 2012

(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.

Explore further: Myriad can patent breast cancer genes: US court

shares

Related Stories

Myriad can patent breast cancer genes: US court

July 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.

U.S. Supreme Court petitioned to review AMP, et al. lawsuit on gene patents

December 15, 2011
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Association for Molecular Pathology v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a case that challenges the validity ...

US Supreme Court rejects blood monitoring patents

March 21, 2012
Biotechnology industry officials are warning that a US Supreme Court ruling on patent rights this week could have a chilling effect on the development of personalized medicine.

Recommended for you

New approach to studying chromosomes' centers may reveal link to Down syndrome and more

November 20, 2017
Some scientists call it the "final frontier" of our DNA—even though it lies at the center of every X-shaped chromosome in nearly every one of our cells.

Genome editing enhances T-cells for cancer immunotherapy

November 20, 2017
Researchers at Cardiff University have found a way to boost the cancer-destroying ability of the immune system's T-cells, offering new hope in the fight against a wide range of cancers.

A math concept from the engineering world points to a way of making massive transcriptome studies more efficient

November 17, 2017
To most people, data compression refers to shrinking existing data—say from a song or picture's raw digital recording—by removing some data, but not so much as to render it unrecognizable (think MP3 or JPEG files). Now, ...

Genetic mutation in extended Amish family in Indiana protects against aging and increases longevity (Update)

November 15, 2017
The first genetic mutation that appears to protect against multiple aspects of biological aging in humans has been discovered in an extended family of Old Order Amish living in the vicinity of Berne, Indiana, report Northwestern ...

US scientists try first gene editing in the body

November 15, 2017
Scientists for the first time have tried editing a gene inside the body in a bold attempt to permanently change a person's DNA to try to cure a disease.

Genetic variant prompts cells to store fat, fueling obesity

November 13, 2017
Obesity is often attributed to a simple equation: People are eating too much and exercising too little. But evidence is growing that at least some of the weight gain that plagues modern humans is predetermined. New research ...

1 comment

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.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.