For those unfamiliar with the issue, the ruling is truly significant. Roughly 20 percent of the human genome is currently under patent protection. Read Michael Crichton’s “Next” if you want to understand how disturbing this issue has been.
The court case was around a legal battle against Utah-based Myriad Genetics, a company that identified two genes that, when they mutate, are high risk indicators for breast and ovarian cancer.(named BRCA 1 and BRCA 2). Myriad patented the genes. In the court’s ruling Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas writes, “The location and order of the nucleotides existed in nature before Myriad found them. Nor did Myriad create or alter the genetic structure of DNA.”
NIH Director Francis Collins commented today, “I am very pleased with today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court … that genes isolated from the human body are not patentable. The decision represents a victory for all those eagerly awaiting more individualized, gene-based approaches to medical care.”
It should be noted that the court did open the way for companies to patent synthetic versions of the gene material, but, as of this ruling, you can no longer patent human genes.