A US judge has issued a rebuff to outfits which think they can patent part of your genetic code.
According to the New York Times, United States District Court Judge Robert Sweet issued the 152-page decision, which invalidated seven patents related to the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, whose mutations have been associated with cancer.
If the decision is upheld, it could throw into doubt the patents covering thousands of human genes.
The case was bought to court by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
They argued that genes were products of nature and fell outside the realm of things that can be patented.
A patent on genes stifled research and innovation and limit testing options.
However Myriad Genetics, the company that holds the patents with the University of Utah Research Foundation, said that the work of isolating the DNA from the body makes it patentable.
The Supreme Court upheld patents on living organisms in 1980 and on that basis alone the court should chuck out the suit.
Judge Sweet said that the patents were “improperly granted” because they involved a “law of nature.”
The idea that isolating a gene made it patentable is a “lawyer’s trick”. Currently there is a prohibition on the direct patenting of the DNA in our bodies but using this lawyers trick you get around this law.
The DNA industry is a bit worried about this. There are multibillion-dollar industries built on this form of patent grant.
Many are warning that the decision could also make it harder for young companies to raise cash.
However in the Myriad case it is possible to see how the system goes bad quite quickly.
Myriad sells a test costing more than $3,000 that looks for mutations in the two genes to determine if a woman is at a high risk of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
But Myriad’s monopoly on the test means that prices are kept high and make it impossible to get a confirmatory test from another laboratory.
Other boffins say that the ruling would open up the scientific world considerably and allow better experiments. We expect the big medicine groups will be banging on the politicians’ doors to try and get new laws to protect their profits.