Unless you've been living under a sequencer, you already know that the ACLU v. Myriad gene patent hearings began yesterday. Daily Scan was there for the circus, held in a standing-room-only courtroom in downtown New York. The ACLU attorneys spent much of their time arguing that isolated DNA was not "markedly different" from native DNA, and therefore not eligible for patent protection. (They included an analogy about a carburetor being a carburetor whether it's under the hood or sitting on a shelf, leading Daily Scan to consider sending them a note about the wonders of fuel injection.)
Myriad's attorney was even less successful on the analogy front, but seemed to have a stronger footing in legal precedent, citing patents that have been upheld for naturally occurring compounds like adrenalin and vitamin B12. He responded to the ACLU's argument about isolated DNA by saying, "This is not nature's handiwork."
While all of the attorneys described DNA and genetic analysis in ways that would've made a scientist's head explode, the real gems of the hearing revolved around each side trying to one-up the other with cautionary tales about the ramifications of this case. The ACLU's lawyer claimed that Myriad has been given "exclusive control over the entire body of knowledge" around BRCA1 and BRCA2 and that if the company really pursued its rights it could prevent any further research on those genes. Myriad's attorney charged that the ACLU was needlessly sounding alarm bells about imaginary dangers of patenting, following that up moments later with his own warnings about what would happen if the judge did overturn the patent: invalidating thousands of gene patents, undermining the entire biotech field, and preventing the emergence of personalized medicine. We don't know how the judge is going to rule, but on the sky-falling-in front, the hearing was definitely a tie.