The Supreme Court ruled today that human genes cannot be patented. In a unanimous decision, the justices invalidated two DNA patents held by the biotech company, Myriad Genetics, Inc., according to the Associated Press. The decision could be a breakthrough in genetic testing and research.
“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,” Sandra Park, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who sued Myriad to challenge its patents, told Bloomberg.
U.S. law allows for patents to be placed on an invention, but recognizes that “products of nature” are not patentable. Yet, since 1982, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office has been issuing patents on genetic material.
This particular case involved two patents owned by Myriad, BRCA1 and BRCA2, genes associated with increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The American Civil Liberties Union argued that Myriad’s ownership of the patents could prevent clinical testing and research.
“Myriad argued that the genes become its ‘invention’ once they are ‘isolated,’ or removed from the cell and body,” the ACLU said. But the Court determined, as Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, that “Myriad did not create anything… separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.”
The ruling is a positive one for many biotech companies, however, including (unfortunately) Monsanto. Jonathan Masur, law professor at the University of Chicago explains how the decision will benefit Monsanto: “They work with lots of plant DNA, but their business isn’t selling strains of DNA. It’s combining it to sell better seeds,” he told Quartz.
“So for Monsanto, this is a good decision – they can still patent what they’re selling, but now no one can come in and patent the basic building blocks of the plants they’re working with.”
Alisha is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.