On Thursday the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that patents on human genes are now void, while the successful creation of synthetic genes may continue to be patented. Both sides of the lawsuit celebrated victory.
On the other hand, Myriad Genetics, Inc., the biotechnology company that holds dozens of patents on human genes, wrote:
The Supreme Court of the United States upheld its patent claims on complementary DNA, or cDNA. However, the Court ruled that five of Myriad's claims covering isolated DNA were not patent eligible. Following today's decision, Myriad has more than 500 valid and enforceable claims in 24 different patents conferring strong patent protection for its BRACAnalysis® test.
At issue was patent law protecting intellectual property rights that establish a temporary monopoly over an invention to protect the inventor’s discovery, allow him to make his discovery public and to recoup his investment in developing it. The Supreme Court ruled that Myriad’s separation of the genes involved in breast and ovarian cancer, first discovered in the 1990s by Mary-Claire King, was not an invention that could be covered under patent law. In writing the court’s opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas 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.”
King’s discovery had been patented by Myriad and allowed the company a virtual, though temporary (their patents expire in 2015), monopoly to charge up to $4,000 each for genetic testing such as that which led to Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy earlier this year. King was pleased at the decision:
It is splendid news for patients, for physicians, for scientists and for common sense. The marketplace will now be open.
Restriction of competition is one of the primary criticisms of patent law.
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