US: Firms cannot patent human genes, US court rules

14th Jun 2013

The US Supreme Court has ruled against patents for extracted human DNA, though synthesized genetic strains remain eligible. The court ruled that isolating naturally occurring material did not satisfy patent requirements.

In a unanimous vote on Thursday, the US Supreme Court in Washington ruled that human DNA came from nature and was therefore not eligible for patenting.

“A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent-eligible merely because it has been isolated,” the court stated.

The nine justices struck down patents held by Myriad Genetics on two genes – BCRA1 and BCRA2 – linked to increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Having isolated, but in no way altered, the genes, Myriad Genetics had applied for exclusive rights to the strands – winning the case in lower courts.

In the previous cases, now overturned, judges had said that the isolated DNA had a “markedly different chemical structure” from that found in healthy bodies.

Thursday’s ruling pleased opponents who had been saying all along that patent protection shouldn’t be given to something that can be found inside the human body.

The US Supreme Court offered a compromise ruling in so far as reasoning that synthetically produced genetic material, also known as cDNA could after all be patented, because it was not naturally occurring and hence merited full legal protection.

“cDNA is patent-eligible because it is not naturally occurring,” the Supreme Court ruling said, going on to say that Myriad’s isolation of particular genes did not satisfy a requirement to claim a “new and useful … composition of matter” needed to secure a patent. “Myriad did not create or alter either the 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… inquiry.”

hg/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)


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