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Will the Supreme Court’s decision on “gene patents” stifle medical innovation?

(bobosh_t/Flickr)
The Supreme Court's ruling did not hand a clear victory to either party.(bobosh_t/Flickr)
Nicole D. Kling, PhD, is a patent specialist at Nixon Peabody LLP who focuses on patent prosecution in biotechnology, the life sciences and biomedical advances. David Resnick, JD, of Nixon Peabody contributed to this post. Opinions expressed in this article represent only those of the authors, not Nixon Peabody or its clients.

The recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court brought Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics back to the headlines, with interest being stoked by Angelina Jolie’s recent disclosure of her double mastectomy.

The lawsuit revolved around patents owned by Myriad related to its BRACAnalysis test, which assesses the likelihood that a person will develop certain cancers, including breast cancer, by searching the DNA for disease-causing sequences. The patents under focus in this lawsuit claim genetic sequences isolated from, or derived from, human DNA—molecules created by manipulating, changing or adding to the DNA.

Myriad argued that the molecules they claimed do not exist as such in human cells and are instead the result of human manipulation and innovation.

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The battle over “gene patents”: ACLU v. Myriad Genetics

Will complacency allow patent protections to come apart?

The merits of “gene patents” – patents directed to DNA sequences including disease-associated mutations — have been debated for years: Do they stifle genetic research, or promote it? Are gene patents essential for the commercialization of genetic testing? Do they raise the cost of medical care?  As a patent attorney with a focus in the life sciences, I find that these questions are being raised more frequently now. Why? What’s happened? In a word, ACLU v. Myriad Genetics.

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