Supreme Court OKs patenting of human DNA if synthetic

Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

In a first of its kind ruling on human genes, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday decided that synthetically produced genetic material can be patented but naturally occurring DNA extracted from the human body cannot.

The nine justices handed a partial victory to Salt Lake City, Utah-based biotechnology company Myriad Genetics Inc, which holds the patents in question. But the rights group that challenged the patents also found reason to be pleased.

The biotechnology industry had warned that an expansive ruling against Myriad could threaten billions of dollars of investment.

The contentious, uniquely 21st century question before the court was whether any human genes can ever be patented – meaning the holders have exclusive rights to their intellectual property for a defined period.

The court, in an opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, ruled that a synthetically produced genetic material made by scientists, known as cDNA, can be patented but that genes extracted from the human body, known as isolated DNA, do not merit the same legal protections.

The compromise outcome, which was urged by the Obama administration, will have less impact on Myriad. The Myriad patents in dispute will all expire by 2015.

Myriad’s shares jumped 10 percent to $37.47 after the ruling was issued.

The ruling means some of Myriad’s patents involving cDNA will likely survive, but the parties disagreed on that point.

The case arose when a group of medical researchers, associations and patients – represented by the American Civil Liberties Union – filed suit in 2009, saying human genes, including synthetically produced material, should not be patented.

They challenged seven patents owned by or licensed to Myriad on two genes – called BRCA1 and BRCA2 – linked to breast and ovarian cancer. A federal judge said the patents were invalid. An appeals court overruled that decision, and the case landed at the Supreme Court.

“Today, the court struck down a major barrier to patient care and medical innovation,” said Sandra Park of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Myriad did not invent the BRCA genes and should not control them. Because of this ruling, patients will have greater access to genetic testing and scientists can engage in research on these genes without fear of being sued.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted patents on at least 4,000 human genes to companies, universities and others that have discovered and decoded them. Patents now cover some 40 percent of the human genome, according to one study.

ANGELINA JOLIE MASTECTOMY

The question was whether the genes Myriad patented concerned its successful isolation of the two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Mutations detected in the genes can help determine heightened risk of breast cancer. Myriad’s work in the area, including a screening test, gained worldwide attention this year when actress Angelina Jolie announced she had a double mastectomy after undergoing a test and finding she had a risk of developing breast cancer.

In the court’s opinion, Thomas wrote that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was wrong to find that isolated human DNA and cDNA were both patent eligible.

Under the federal Patent Act, an inventor can obtain a patent on various new processes and products but “laws of nature, natural phenomena and abstract ideas” are not patentable.

Thomas wrote that cDNA “does not present the same obstacles to patentability as naturally occurring isolated DNA segments.”

In examining the differences between the two, Thomas concluded that cDNA is not naturally occurring. A laboratory technician, he wrote, “unquestionably creates something new when cDNA is made.”

Thomas noted so-called method patents, which concern technical procedures for carrying out a certain process, are not affected by the ruling.

The decision will stop the practice of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granting patents to companies that isolate DNA but will allow patents for firms that build DNA from its basic chemicals, said Ed Reines, of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.

“The patent office was granting patents on isolated biological composition, such as DNA (for years). That will not be happening in the future,” Reines said.

“Given recent Supreme Court skepticism in the patent area, it is not surprising,” he added. “There shouldn’t be much in this decision that surprises industry or the financial markets.”

The case is Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-398.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Local

De Blasio, Bratton defend city's efforts after Eric…

Mayor Bill de Blasio justified the city's response to the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died while in police custody earlier this month.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.