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Supreme Court rules on Myriad's "gene patenting" case

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued their anxiously awaited decision in the case of the Association for Molecular Pathology vs. Myriad Genetics, Inc. Often called the gene patenting case, the case raises the issue of whether companies like Salt Lake City-based Myriad Genetics, Inc. can patent genes, in this case, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Mutations in these genes confer a substantially higher risk of breast or ovarian cancer.

The Court ruled that naturally isolated DNA is not patentable, but that synthetic DNA (such as the cDNA for the BRCA1 and 2 genes) is patentable. The decision was unanimous. From the decision:

A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely becauseit has been isolated, but cDNA is patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring.


cDNA is not a “product of nature,” so it is patent eligible under §101. cDNA does not present the same obstacles to patentability as naturally occurring, isolated DNA segments. Its creation results in an exons-only molecule, which is not naturally occurring. Its order of the exons may be dictated by nature, but the lab technician unquestionably creates something new when introns are removed from a DNA sequence to make cDNA.

We’ll have a longer comment about the decision later today or tomorrow from Jacob Sherkow, JD, a fellow at Stanford Law School’s Center for Law and the Biosciences. Sherkow recently wrote a wonderful blog post for us summarizing the oral arguments in the case, which took place in April. And the SCOTUS blog carried a great, ‘made simple’ synopsis of the issue earlier this year for readers who want to quickly get up to speed.

The decision is likely to have far-reaching implications for the many other gene patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office since the first gene (chorionic somatomammotropin) was patented by the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 1980s. The National Society of Genetic Counselors now estimate that around 20 percent of all human genes are patented.

Previously: Are genes patentable? A summary of the Supreme Court case, At Stanford event, cancer advocate Susan Love talks about “A future with no breast cancer” and BRCA patients use Stanford-developed online tool to better understand treatment options
Photo by Mark Fischer

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