Should Human Genes be Patented?

The Supreme Court agrees to hear a case deciding if two cancer genes should continue to be protected by patent.

By Edyta Zielinska | December 3, 2012

Wikimedia Commons, KeithBurtisIn August, an appeals court decided that Myriad Genetics Inc. had the right to keep its patents on two genes for ovarian and breast cancer. As a result, a large group of plaintiffs in the biomedical community including patient advocates, small companies, and physicians, petitioned the Supreme Court to invalidate the lower court’s finding. Last Friday (November 30), the Court agreed to hear the case.

Two researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Arupa Ganguly and Haig Kazazian, had developed a novel method for screening for the two genes. Myriad accused the two of patent infringement in 1998, spurring the first court cases on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene patents. Currently the patent allows Myriad to create and distribute screening tests for the two genes.

The case is expected to have far reaching impacts in the medical community and genetic research in general. “DNA occurs naturally in the human body and cannot be patented by a single company that can then use its patents to limit scientific research and the free exchange of ideas,” Chris Hansen, lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed an appeal told the AFP News Agency.

The Supreme Court will hear the case in March of 2013 and is expected to render its decision in June, according to the AFP.


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Avatar of: Colleen


Posts: 1

December 3, 2012

The correct gene abbreviation is BRCA, not BCRA.

Avatar of: Ed M.

Ed M.

Posts: 45

December 3, 2012

Can we, then, all patent ourselves?

Avatar of: ckimrey


Posts: 2

December 3, 2012

the whole patent process is deeply corrupt. Before questions of whether a patent should be given in the first place, a good start would be to prevent companies from continually gaming the system to extend patents well beyond the point they should have expired.

Avatar of: Ceciliaelpi


Posts: 1

December 4, 2012

You mean March 2013 right?  Thanks

Avatar of: Marcos Hardy

Marcos Hardy

Posts: 9

December 4, 2012

Science is a societal common good. Today, its endevours are largely financed by public monies. In consequence, scientific knowledge, its aquisition and its employment is a societal common good. It is in this framework that gene structure and identification should be conceptualized. No private hands should have the monopoly on this knowledge and its use. To hold patents on our knowledge and understanding of Nature, thus banning "other" members of the society from developing its understanding and employment is simply ludicrious. I wonder which would be the state of Molecular Biology had Watson and Crick patented in the 50's their DNA model. They would be ultra-wealthy and Science and Technology would be in a sorry state. It is as if I snap a picture of a person and because of my © and ® on the photo said person cannot have a picture taken again unless the photographer pays royalty to me. The subject does not own his face any longer. Ridiculous.

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