Gene Patents Upheld

A US federal appeals court says human genes are patentable.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef (an unusual nickname for Jennifer) got her master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses. After four years of diving off the Gulf...

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Jul 29, 2011

FLICKR, BRIAN TURNER

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...

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.”

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