The blogosphere is alive with the news that a federal court has overturned a patent held by Myriad Genetics for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer genes. The company patented the genes in the 1990s and then invented a test to identify some of the mutations, according to the Los Angeles Times blog Booster Shots. "You might be asking yourself how a company could get a patent on a gene, which isn’t a man-made invention. You wouldn’t be alone," the blog's Karen Kaplan writes. The ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation were apparently also asking themselves that question and filed suit against Myriad. The judge agreed, according to Kaplan, saying the patent should never have been granted in the first place because genes are a "law of nature."
Our sister publication, GenomeWeb Daily News, reports that in his ruling, Judge Robert Sweet noted that the case was based on the fact that the patents protect "isolated DNA," which is "premised on the view that DNA should be treated no differently from any other chemical compound and that its purification from the body, using well-known techniques, renders it patentable by transforming it into something distinctly different in character." Sweet then noted that because "DNA represents the physical embodiment of biological information, distinct in its essential characteristics from any other chemical found in nature … [its] existence in an 'isolated' form alters neither this fundamental quality of DNA as it exists in the body nor the information it encodes." Sweet concluded that "the patents at issue directed to 'isolated DNA' containing sequences found in nature are deemed unpatentable subject matter."
Genetic Future's Daniel MacArthur called the verdict "jaw-dropping" and "astonishing," and that while the full implications aren't yet clear, the decision is potentially a boon for consumer genomics companies such as 23andMe and Counsyl.
23andMe co-founder Linda Avey writes that she was "thrilled" to hear the news, especially since she had previously called the patent "illogical and troubling." In her Life and Times of Lilly Mendel blog, Avey writes, "I don't think I'm the only person who'll have a spring in her step based on this early news."
Most bloggers seem to agree with the decision. The Questionable Authority's Mike Dunford says the ruling "gives cause for hope" that human genetics research won't be limited by companies claiming patents on the human body.