In a rare unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that human genes cannot be patented. As we blogged about earlier, some companies have patented human genetic material, but the judges ruled that only inventions and not products of nature can be patented.
From USA Today:
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that human genes cannot be patented, a decision with both immediate benefits for some breast and ovarian cancer patients and long-lasting repercussions for biotechnology research.
The decision represents a victory for cancer patients, researchers and geneticists who claimed that a single company’s patent raised costs, restricted research and sometimes forced women to have breasts or ovaries removed without sufficient facts or second opinions.
But the court held out a lifeline to Myriad Genetics, the company with an exclusive patent on the isolated form of genes that can foretell an increased genetic risk of cancer. The justices said it can patent a type of synthesized DNA that goes beyond extracting the genes from the body.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the decision for a unanimous court. “Myriad did not create anything,” Thomas said. “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.”
The decision will allow other scientists and laboratories to provide genetic diagnostic testing, now that the patent on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes themselves has been lifted. That should lead to lower costs and greater access. . . .
The complex scientific case was perhaps the most important on the high court’s calendar other than its more celebrated cases involving same-sex marriage, voting rights and affirmative action.
And unlike those cases, which are expected to divide the court sharply along ideological lines, the controversial concept of gene patenting gave all nine justices something to agree on.
The decision was based on past patent cases before the high court in which the justices ruled that forces of nature, as opposed to products of invention, are not patent-eligible.