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Human genes cannot be patented, Supreme Court rules

An artist's representation of DNA.
An artist's representation of DNA.

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The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that human genes cannot be patented, saying laws of nature and natural phenomena are not patentable. The ruling comes after cancer patients and their doctors challenged a company that had exclusive rights to certain human genes.  Myriad Genetics, a Utah-based molecular diagnostic company, had identified and patented two genes--BRCA1 and 2--whose mutations are associated with higher risks of breast and ovarian cancer.

With patents on the genes, Myriad was the only company that was allowed to perform tests on them. Prior to the ruling, the US Patent and Trademark Office had been allowing patents on genes for the last 30 years. Though court ruled that a natural gene can’t be patented, the justices agreed that a synthetic version of the gene may be.

Should companies have had the ability to patent these genes in the past? How will today’s ruling affect the medical and biotechnology industries?


Lisa McElroy, Associate Professor of Law, Earle Mack School of Law, Drexel University

Brian Rye, Senior Health-Care analyst Bloomberg Government