The Supreme Court has finally reached a verdict; human genes in their natural form cannot be patented because they are “products of nature”, and not the invention or creation of a commercial company. The decision was a major blow to a company called Myriad Genetics, which has long held that it owns the patent rights to the two genes that confer a high risk of breast cancer, called BRCA1 and BRCA2. Based on its alleged patents, the company had vigorously defended its right to be the sole provider of lucrative tests for the two genes. In the process, it had prevented researchers from studying the genes and kept other companies from developing similar tests for the presence of the genes. That kept the price of the tests for the two genes (predictors of risk for breast cancer) high and earned big profits for Myriad.

However, the Supreme Court didn’t rule entirely against Myriad Genetics. In another part of its decision, the court ruled that synthetic forms of the genes (created in a laboratory) would be patentable. Myriad did indeed create synthetic forms of the gene, which could now fall under patent protection. Nevertheless, the two rulings taken together represent a partial defeat for Myriad Genetics and a victory for gene researchers and other biotech companies. The ruling means that the two breast cancer genes, as well as the all other genes previously “discovered” by researchers, remain in the public domain, available to anyone.

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