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Supreme Court's Myriad Genetics Decision Signals Good Day For Capitalism

In an unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court has decided that while complementary DNA can be patented because they are artificial constructs, isolated human genes are not patentable.

June 13, 2013

2 Min Read
Supreme Court's Myriad Genetics Decision Signals Good Day For Capitalism

[Photo Credit: iStockPhoto.com/Kameleon007]

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court has decided that while complementary DNA can be patented because they are artificial constructs, isolated human genes are not patentable

The nine justices couldn't be more right.

Myriad Genetics, the company at the heart of the case, had argued that it had discovered the sequence and precise location of certain genes whose mutations increases the risk for ovarian and breast cancer and therefore the genes could be patented. That knowledge helped them to design diagnostic tests at a price that even actress Angelina Jolie has described to be too prohibitive.

But knowing where the genes are located and their sequence doesn't give the company the right to seek patent protection, the Supreme Court ruled.

That is perhaps as ludicrous as Newton wanting to patent gravity after discovering the naturally occurring phenomenon. And that is precisely why the highest court in the country bridged partisan and ideological divisions to issue an unanimous ruling, a rare occurrence these days. Here's the precise language from the ruling:

A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated, but cDNA is patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring.

The ruling follows similar decisions made by the highest Court, for instance Mayo Clinic versus Prometheus Laboratories where the justices decided that natural bodily responses to medical treatment are not eligible for patent protection.

The good news is not just for patients who are likely to see the test become more widely available and more affordable.

But it is good for capitalism. Instead of one company determining price for a test that they alone can provide and to countless patients, now other diagnostic companies can develop competing tests. 

The markets too have focused on the portion of the ruling that benefits Myriad, with Myriad's stock going higher on the news of the decision. 

"We believe the Court appropriately upheld our claims on cDNA, and underscored the patent eligibility of our method claims, ensuring strong intellectual property protection for our BRACAnalysis test moving forward," said Peter D. Meldrum, president and CEO, in a news release Thursday. "More than 250,000 patients rely upon our BRACAnalysis test annually, and we remain focused on saving and improving peoples' lives and lowering overall healthcare costs."

-- By Arundhati Parmar, Senior Editor, MD+DI

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