The Supreme Court today ruled unanimously that isolated human genes are not patentable, putting in jeopardy patents held by Myriad Genetics for genetic tests that identify genes tied to an increased risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
The case hinged on the question of whether an human gene becomes a "human-made invention" once it’s targeted and isolated or whether it remains a "product of nature" and thus ineligible for patenting.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the final decision that Myriad’s methods of identifying the genes, dubbed BRCA1 AND BRCA2, didn’t turn the genes themselves into patentable material.
"It is undisputed that Myriad did not create or alter any of the genetic information encoded in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes," Thomas wrote. "Groundbreaking, innovative or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the criteria."
Thomas noted that Myriad’s methods for isolating the genes in question "were well understood by geneticists," adding that a novel method for isolating the genes may be patentable, had Myriad developed such a method, the New York Times reported.