For long, biotech firms have been trying to have human genes declared patentable. The reasons for such ambitions are obvious – these biotech firms spend millions of dollars to isolate genes and find cures to diseases. And although they earn many time more than the amount they spend, they want to lay their hands on even more. A new court ruling now seems to have sided with them.
The ruling has been given by U.S. appeals court and applies to the legal feud over patenting BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes related to breast cancer. Myriad Genetics has been aggressively pursuing a legal battle to have these genes patentable. And in this, it was bitterly opposed by a group of medical organizations, headed by American Civil Liberties Union and Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT).
The case has been fought off by these two sides since a long time and now, the appeals court has ruled that patents on genes are valid “because each of the claimed molecules represents a nonnaturally occurring composition of matter.” To be clear, the court refers to isolated DNA extracted from cells during the course of a research as ‘nonnaturally occurring matter.’
However, the court also ruled that Myriad Genetics’ claims on testing cancer risk by analyzing DNA sequences is not patentable because it is rather based on “abstract, mental steps of logic that are not “transformative.”
Naturally, neither the Myriad Genetics nor the group of medical organizations appears happy with this verdict. The co-counsel against Myriad, Dan Ravicher, had stated earlier, “Human genes are not like new genetic tools or drugs, which can be patented because they are manufactured. It is absurd to think that a company can own naturally-occurring human genes simply because they removed them from the body.”
This argument is the cornerstone of the opposition to the claim that genes can be patented. Such a move, medical organizations argue, can seriously undermine research in the field of medicine, effectively putting it in the hands of rich, profit-making biotech firms.
For now, PUBPAT is considering the verdict and planning its next move. According to PUBPAT’s attorney, the group hasn’t “made any final decisions about what we’ll do. … But we are not satisfied with this result, and think the dissenting judge in the Court of Appeals decision today is correct that isolated human genes are not patentable.”