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Supreme Showdown

The US Supreme Court is gearing up to hear arguments in the Myriad Genetics gene patenting case on Monday. The Myriad patents cover the isolated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which increase the risk of breast, ovarian, and other cancers, while critics say isolated DNA is a product of nature and, therefore, is not patentable. The implications of a decision in The Association for Molecular Pathology v. the US Patent and Trademark Office and Myriad Genetics case, Heidi Ledford at Nature writes, may not be as broad as some think.

"Symbolically, this case is a pretty big deal," Duke University's Robert Cook-Deegan tells Nature's Ledford. "But the practical consequences of it are limited."

University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey's Jeffrey Rosenfeld and Christopher Mason from Cornell University recently wrote in Genomic Medicine that, according to their analysis, about 41 percent of the human genome could be covered by patent claims. Ledford at Nature notes that other researchers like Christopher Holman, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Harvard Law School's Nicholson Price place that percentage closer to a quarter.

The case, Ledford adds, focuses on isolated gene patents, and there are other types of patents that also cover genes. And Harvard's Price says that whole genome sequencing likely would not infringe any gene patents as it looks at the full scope of the genome rather than at isolated DNA. Cook-Deegan adds, though, that if the court does take a broad view of the case, whole-genome approaches could be affected.

A decision in the case is expected toward the end of June, Nature adds.