On Friday, the Supreme Court announced that it would review a case concerning Myriad Genetics Inc.’s patents on two genes linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.
The case dates back several years, but most recently, the Federal Circuit in August held firm in its July 2011 ruling in Association for Molecular Pathology v. US Patent and Trademark Office after the Supreme Court had asked the lower court to reconsider its decision in light of the more recent ruling in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories. In Association for Molecular Pathology, the Federal Circuit ruled that human DNA is a patentable product of nature. But earlier this year, the Supreme Court in Mayo Collaborative Services ruled that companies can’t patent observations about natural phenomena.
Although the biotech industry saw the Federal Circuit’s decision as a victory, not everyone viewed the ruling as a positive occurrence. In September, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked the Supreme Court to review Association for Molecular Pathology and invalidate gene patents, arguing that “the court of appeals did not fully consider or correctly apply the Supreme Court’s most recent and relevant patent law decisions.” The group claims that “DNA occurs naturally in the human body and cannot be patented by a single company that can then use its patents to limit scientific research and the free exchange of ideas.”
Sandra Park, an ACLU lawyer, told Thomson Reuters that the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case is a “huge step” toward ensuring the provision of medical care and research. She estimates that more than 4,000 of humans’ approximate 22,000 genes have U.S. patents.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case by the end of June 2013.