DNA Can’t Be Patented, SCOTUS Rules

Organic DNA sequences cannot be patented, the Supreme Court has ruled, in what is considered a breakthrough for patients and doctors in terms of access to medical advances.

The DNA decision was sparked by the discovery of a gene sequence that unlocked a patient’s foreknowledge regarding breast cancer.

After the breast cancer genes (the same for which Angelina Jolie tested positive, leading to her decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy) were isolated, the issue of DNA patent infringement arose, Ars Technica explains:

“The case grew out of patents held by Myriad Genetics, a company that has had a monopoly on testing for genetic defects in genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer. The genes in question, BRCA1 and BRCA2, were first isolated by scientists from the University of Utah, who then patented their sequences. The university later transferred the patents to Myriad, which developed further patents to cover more detailed aspects of the testing process.”

SCOTUS looked at the new issues presented by genome discovery and whether naturally occurring information isolated could be subject to patent laws. Ultimately, justices deemed the Myriad patents not applicable to naturally occurring DNA, but allowed for patenting synthetic DNA.

In the decision issued this morning, opinion [PDF] read in part:

“Myriad did not create or alter either the genetic information encoded in the BCRA1 and
BCRA2 genes or the genetic structure of the DNA. It found an important and useful gene, but groundbreaking, innovative, or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the §101 inquiry.”

SCOTUS judges further opined that Myriad’s DNA claims “focus on the genetic information encoded in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes,” and not changes caused by isolation of genetic information.

However, judges deemed synthetic “cDNA” to be not a “product of nature,” and therefore, patent eligible under §101 claims.