Supreme Court Decision Bars Patenting of Human Genes

In a case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, a June 13, 2013 unanimous ruling barred human genes from being patented.  The ruling invalidated thousands of patents held by Myriad Genetics, a Utah biotechnology company focused on human genomics, who held exclusive patents on two isolated forms of genes that can predict an increased genetic risk of breast or ovarian cancer.

The ruling was universally celebrated by cancer patients, researchers and geneticists, as it is expected to lower prices, increase research and result in more discoveries due to increased competition.   Specifically, lower prices will increase the opportunities for women with genetic breast or ovarian cancer risks and low income or low quality health insurance to be tested for breast and ovarian cancer, a test Myriad has performed nearly a million times since the late 1990s.  Additionally, those tested will be able to obtain second opinions, and thus potentially avoid unnecessary yet risky and costly procedures or surgery.
The basis of the decision was Supreme Court precedent in which it was ruled that forces of nature, as opposed to products of invention, are not patent-eligible.
The court also found that patents on complementary DNA, or cDNA, are patent-eligible. This piece of the ruling was significant for the medical and biotech industry, indicating that the creation of synthetic DNA can be protected.

David Katz is a Senior Audit Manager providing domestic and international accounting, auditing and business consulting services to public and private clients in a variety of industries.

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