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The U.S. Supreme Court Rules that Genes Cannot be Patented


On June 13, 2013 the US Supreme Court in Association for Molecular Pathology et al v. Myriad Genetics, unanimously struck down the patents held by Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City, Utah, on the DNA comprising BRCA1 and BRCA2. In their abnormal forms these two genes dispose women to a dramatically heightened risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer.  Myriad Genetics had located the two genes, extracted them from the chromosomes housing them, and had obtained the patents on the genes once they were isolated from the human body. 

"The patents controlled by Myriad entitled the company to exclude all others from using the isolated DNA in breast cancer research, diagnostics, and treatment. The plaintiffs—who originally included biomedical scientists and clinicians, advocates for women’s health, and several women with or at risk for breast cancer—held that Myriad’s enforcement of its patents interfered with the progress of science and the delivery of medical services. They contended that genes, even if isolated, were legally ineligible for patents and that well-established tenets of patent law precluded the grant to any person or institution of a monopoly over a substance so essential to life, health, and science as human DNA" (Kevles, Daniel J. "The Genes you Can't Patent," New York Review of Books, September 26, 2013).

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