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Share Your Thoughts: Supreme Court Rules Natural DNA Can’t Be Patented

Photo courtesy of Flickr user dullhunk/ Alex Bateman at the Sanger Institute.

Can someone else patent your genes? No, according to a closely watched ruling from the U.S. Supreme court Thursday morning.

The Court http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-398_8njq.pdf“>ruled partially for Myriad Genetics, Inc. Its unanimous decision found synthetically produced genetic material can be patented, but that genes extracted from the human body, known as isolated DNA, do not merit the same legal protections.

The NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown examined some of the issues in the case in April, when the Court heard oral arguments.


Shortly after the decision, SCOTuSblog’s Lyle Denniston broke down the larger implications:

Pronouncing what may seem like a patent truism, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that biotech researchers have to create something to get monopoly protection to study and apply the phenomenon. Because Myriad Genetics, Inc., “did not create anything,” the Court struck down its patent on isolating human genes from the bloodstream, unchanged from their natural form. Because Myriad did create a synthetic form of the genes, however, that could be eligible for a patent, the Court concluded.

The decision was a major blow to a company that believed it had a right to be the sole user and analyst of two human genes that show a high risk, for women found to have them in their blood, of breast and ovarian cancer. But the ruling will give medical and scientific researchers, and family doctors, greater opportunity to help women patients discover their potential vulnerability to those types of cancer.

In a way. the ruling was a silent tribute to screen actress Angelina Jolie, who recently gained huge notoriety not for her acting but for voluntarily having her breasts surgically removed after discovering that she had the threatening genes in her body. She, of course, was able to pay the high cost of that test; now, women of less means will be able to afford it, and that was a key motivation for challenging Myriad’s patent rights.

What do you think? Do you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision that biotech companies must “create” something to patent it? Do you think the decision may stifle important research in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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