California - Should human genes be allowed to be patented? This question has fueled the ongoing debate between organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union who argues that genes shouldn't be patented. On the other side of the fence are companies who pose the argument that a patent is a reward for time and money spent on research. Just last week the U.S. Supreme Court overturned two gene patents belonging to Myriad Genetics. The Salt Lake City, Utah based company uses BRACAnalysis testing which looks for mutations on the breast cancer predisposition gene. This testing is also known as BRCA, which locates mutations that are associated with much larger risks of breast and ovarian cancer.
In 2009, the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation challenged Myriad's two patents known as BRCA1 and BRCA 2 when it sued Myriad in the U.S. District Court of New York. In 2010, a U.S. District judge in New York agreed with the plaintiff's and deemed the patents invalid. However, in 2011 the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. overturned the ruling in a 2-1 decision. The plaintiff's then brought the case to the U.S. Supreme Court where it ordered that there be further review of the gene patents case by a lower court.
In a similar case, the U.S. Supreme Court also recently ruled that Prometheus Laboratories was not eligible for a blood test patent because the patent "merely reflected a law of nature." It is still questionable as to just how much the Prometheus case will affect Myriad's chance of keeping its gene patents once and for all.
Peter Meldrum, Myriad Genetics CEO and President stated in a news release, "While this case should not have any direct impact to Myriad and its operations because of our extensive patent estate, it has great importance to the medical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and other commercial industries, as well as the hundreds of millions of people whose lives are bettered by the products these industries develop based on the promise of strong patent protection."