No Patents for Human Genes

June 14, 2013

Yesterday, June 13, 2013 the  US Supreme Court ruled that Human Genes can not be Patented.

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The US Supreme Court is composed of nine justices, and their rulings are commonly split four to five on the side of a case. It is rare to find instances in which the court rules unanimously on one side of a case. Yesterday however, the Supreme Court ruled 9 to 0, that Human Genes can not be the subjects of Patents.

The particular case that was in front of the court related to the Patent filed by MYRIAD GENETICS Inc., on the two human genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, mutations of which can dramatically increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.




Myriad researchers identified the location of BRCA1 and BRCA1 in humans, and this allowed Myriad to determine the genes’ typical nucleotide sequence, which, in turn, enabled it to develop medical tests useful for detecting mutations in these genes in a particular patient to assess the patient’s cancer risk. If valid, Myriad’s patents would give it the exclusive right to isolate an individual’s BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, and would give Myriad the exclusive right to synthetically create BRCA cDNA.


As Science reported

“Myriad did not create anything,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for a unanimous court. “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.” And “groundbreaking, innovative, or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy” the requirements for winning a patent.

Overall, the ruling is a victory for two New York City advocacy groups that have waged a long campaign to get the patents knocked down: the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the smaller Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), which initiated the effort. It was a defeat for the diagnostics firm Myriad Genetics, of Salt Lake City. Five of its many patent claims on the human genes BRCA1 andBRCA2 have been gutted, although other claims remain intact.

This case has enormous significance, given than by 2005 more that 20% of human genes were already covered by Patents.

A Patent is a Monopoly awarded by the Federal Government on the rights to

  • Use
  • Make
  • Sell
  • Offer for Sell
  • Import

an invention.


We use genes every time that one of our cells reads them for transcribing a protein, and we make them every time that one cell in our body divides, which happens about 25 million times per second.  That was a lot of Patent infringement going on by 7 billion people on earth.


Thanks to this ruling of the Supreme Court, today, we can finally go back to legally use and make the 1 trillion copies of the 2,600 (previously) patented human genes that we carry in our body.

This is indeed an event worth celebrating !

But, before we go on living and doing natural things like digesting our food, we still have to ask the Supreme Court if the ruling extends to bacterial genes, given that 90% of the cells in a human body are bacterial cells are are indeed required for humans to operate up to specifications.

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