Myriad Genetics, a Utah-based molecular diagnostic company, can keep its patents the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, mutations in which are associated with most inherited forms of breast and ovarian cancers.
The company patented the genes in 2000 and 2001, after developing a genetic test based on them. But in May 2009, Myriad was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed that patenting human genes was unconstitutional, as it could inhibit medical practice and research efforts.
In March 2010, a New York federal court ruled that the patents were invalid. Today (July 29), a US federal appeals court overturned that decision, arguing that the company has the right to patent both genes because it is testing for specific mutated forms of the genes that have a different molecular structure than the naturally occurring genes, Reuters reports.
“The fact that genes will [be] considered patentable subject matter is a good decision,” patent attorney Lisa Haile, co-chair of law firm DLA Piper’s Global Life Sciences Sector, said in a statement, as preventing such patents may discourage industry partners from undertaking such projects.
The ACLU, on the other hand, says that the ruling is a step backwards for science. “Today’s ruling is a blow to the idea that patent law cannot impede the free flow of ideas in scientific research,” Chris Hansen, a staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said in a statement. “Human DNA is not a manufactured invention, but a natural entity like air or water. To claim ownership of genetic information is to unnecessarily block the free exchange of ideas.”