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Supreme Court to Take Gene Patents Case

U.S. Supreme Court (A. Kotok)

U.S. Supreme Court (A. Kotok)

The New York Times reports today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case about the ability of inventors to patent human genes. The case involves patent claims by Myriad Genetics, a developer of molecular diagnostics in Salt Lake City, that is being challenged by a group of physicians, scientists, and professional organizations.

The suit against Myriad Genetics challenges seven patents covering mutations of genes associated with increased disposition for inheriting breast and ovarian cancer. The plaintiffs say allowing the patents will cut out other scientists from studying these genes, as well as make it difficult for patients to investigate their own genetic make-up or even get second opinions.

The legal question, says the Times, is whether genes are products of nature, and therefore not patentable. Myriad Genetics claims the isolation of individual genes are the result of significant human ingenuity and intervention, and thus can be protected with a patent.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that hears patent cases appealed from district courts ruled in August for Myriad Genetics. As the Times notes, however, the court decision was divided, with each judge writing a separate opinion.

In October 2010, the Department of Justice filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing gene patents. The Times reports that American Medical Association, AARP, and women’s advocacy groups also filed briefs supporting the plaintiffs.

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