Sunday, June 16, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court on Patents and the Nature of DNA

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a high profile patent case, unanimously ruled against Myriad Genetics and its DNA patents associated with genes that helped identify high-risk breast and ovarian cancer cases.

The court acknowledged that the firm did 1) review massive amounts of genetic code information to identify the genes and 2) this knowledge can be helpful to doctors and medical researchers, but it said, “Myriad did not create anything. To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.” and “groundbreaking, innovative, or even brilliant discovery does not by itself” warrant a patent.

The court also noted, “scientific alteration of the genetic code presents a different inquiry, and we express no opinion about the application … to such endeavors.”

 While the Myriad Genetic ruling clearly states that naturally occurring DNA is a product of nature and not eligible for a patent, synthetic molecules known as complementary DNA, or cDNA, can be patented because they require significant research and manipulation to create. It is likely that over time, this distinction will blur and other patent and ethics issues will continue to be debated and challenged within the life sciences industry.

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