Supreme Court calls genome patents invalid

Park Sae-jin Reporter() | Posted : June 14, 2013, 15:11 | Updated : June 14, 2013, 15:11
Human genes may not be patented, but artificially copied DNA can be claimed as intellectual property, the US Supreme Court has ruled unanimously. The court quashed patents held by a Utah-based firm on two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

The opinion said DNA came from nature and was not eligible for patenting. The US biotechnology industry had warned any blanket ban on such patents would jeopardize huge investment in gene research and therapies.

“We hold that a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in Thursday‘s opinion. However, his ruling said that synthetic molecules known as complementary DNA can be patented “because it is not naturally occurring”.

Myriad Genetics, the company at the heart of the lawsuit, saw its shares rise after Thursday’s compromise decision.

The legal battle was prompted by a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2009 that centered on whether companies should be able to patent genes. Currently, researchers and private companies work to isolate genes in order to use them in tests for gene-related illnesses, and in emerging gene therapies.

The genes at the centre of the lawsuit are linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad Genetics developed a pioneering test to look for mutations in those genes that might increase the risk of developing cancer. According to researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in the US, patents now cover some 40% of the human genome.

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