Supreme Court Seems Skeptical of Patenting Human Genes

SCOTUS_SupremeCourtIn arguments at the Supreme Court Monday, justices appeared skeptical about patenting human genes.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been granting parents on human genes for nearly 30 years. This is the first case questioning that premise to reach the Supreme Court. At the heart of the case are two genes associated with breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA 2. People with certain mutations in these genes have a significantly higher risk for breast, ovarian and other cancers.

Opponents of patenting human genes say genes are products of nature and therefore cannot be patented. Myriad Genetics, which holds the patent on the genes, say that once genes are isolated from the body and processed they are no longer a product of nature.

The Associated Press captured the back and forth:

Justices attempted to break the argument down to an everyday level by discussing things like chocolate chip cookies, baseball bats and jungle plants.

[Gregory A.] Castanias, the Myriad lawyer, argued that the justices could think about the gene question like a baseball bat. “A baseball bat doesn’t exist until it’s isolated from a tree. But that’s still the product of human invention to decide where to begin the bat and where to end the bat,” he said.

That didn’t work for Chief Justice John Roberts. Continue reading