Monday, April 5, 2010

Human Gene Patents Invalidated

Basing his decision on legal arguments that human genes are products of nature and hence cannot be patented, in March of 2010 a U.S. District Court judge invalidated several patents held by a company called Myriad Genetics on the human breast cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2. Myriad Genetics sells a kit used to test for the two genes for about $3,000. The company tried to argue that their method of isolating the genes changed the genes, and thus made them patentable. But the judge ruled that such an argument was just a trick to circumvent the prohibition on the direct patenting of DNA.

About 20% of human genes have already been patented. A number of biotech companies were planning to make a hefty profit by developing and selling patent-protected genetic tests or by selling the patent rights to others. Whether all of those patents could ultimately be invalidated is unclear. With potentially billions of dollars at stake, the decision is likely to be appealed.

Medical and research organizations and patients are pleased by the decision. If it holds up on appeal it should provide wider access to human genes currently under patent protection, and ultimately make genetic tests like those for BRCA1 and BRCA2 less expensive.

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