Supreme Court Throws Out Patents on Human Genes

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The Associated Press is reporting that the Supreme Court overturned patents belonging to Myriad Genetics Inc. The patents were on mutated human genes the company had determined were linked to a risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

The American Civil Liberties Union argued, for the Association of Molecular Pathology, against the patenting of human genes, but Myriad and other companies argue that a patent is the motivation and reward for years of research. The ACLU originally won its case at the District level in 2010, with U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet ruling against the patenting of the genes. This decision was overturned last year by a federal appeals court. Now, that decision has been overturned by the Supreme Court and sent back to the appeals court for review.

The specific issue at stake is whether Myriad's cancer-causing genes are too similar to genes found naturally in the human body. The Supreme Court last week issued a decision in a different case that barred patenting laws of nature. The AP quotes Justice Stephen Breyer:

"The question before us is whether the claims do significantly more than simply describe these natural relations," said Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the opinion in the Prometheus Laboratories case. "To put the matter more precisely, do the patent claims add enough to their statements of the correlations to allow the processes they describe to qualify as patent-eligible processes that apply natural law? We believe the answer to this question is no."

Myriad released a statement on the matter yesterday. "While, this case should not have any direct impact to Myriad and its operations because of our extensive patent estate, it has great importance to the medical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and other commercial industries, as well as the hundreds of millions of people whose lives are bettered by the products these industries develop based on the promise of strong patent protection," said President and CEO of Myriad Genetics Peter Meldrum. "Thus, we are prepared to vigorously defend the patent claims granted to Myriad by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and believe that we will be successful."

Myriad Genetics, Inc. is a molecular research company based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Association fo Molecular Pathology (AMP), the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, released a statement today expressing confidence that it would win the case. "Our members have witnessed the adverse effects of gene patents on patient care," Said AMP President Iris Schrijver. "“By awarding monopolies in testing of patented genes, these patents
reduce patient access to genetic tests, increase test prices, and stand in the way of innovations
in diagnostic methods. Because variation in gene sequences
plays an important role in the development and progression of many diseases, through gene
patents patent holders can essentially gain ownership of the understanding of some diseases
and of certain areas of patient care itself.”

The AMP is an international association of medical professionals that advocates for molecular biology, genetics, and genomics research.

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