In a (somewhat) surprising decision – based on some of their past decisions – the Supreme Court has ruled that human genes cannot be patented. Phew. Looks like I still own my genes.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the Justices reached a unanimous ruling that human genes are a “product of nature” and thus cannot be patented or profited from. Biotech company Myriad Genetics Inc. had previously filed for patent protection on two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancers, which this ruling now tosses out.
A professor of pathology and genetics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, Dr. Harry Ostrer had brought the initial complaint against Myriad to the court after the company tried to stop him from testing his patients for a genetic mutation. It said he could only use its test to do so, at a cost of over $3,000.
In his writing for the court, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stated that “Myriad did not create anything” and that “to be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.”
Even better than the stoppage of gene-patenting attempts is the fact that this should lead to more genetic testing and research on human disease. “This will drive down the costs of genetic testing. It should open up the competition and improve the quality of testing,” said Ostrer.
Imagine if Monsanto all of a sudden announced they wanted to own your genetic makeup? Think it’s far off? I don’t. After all, their genetically-modified seeds are in almost all the food we eat, meaning that we are consuming their genetic material. Will Monsanto someday argue in court that because you consumed food made from their seeds that they have the right to patent your genes?
Thankfully the court’s decision landed on the intelligent side of this argument to protect us from companies profiting off of our genetic material. Now if only they could turn corporations back into corporations and not allow them to remain “people.”
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