[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) [advocacy websites] on Wednesday asked [cert. petition, PDF] the US Supreme Court [official website] to overturn a recent federal appeals court decision that upheld gene patents. The June decision [JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [official website] partially overturned a district court ruling [JURIST report] and upheld the validity of gene patents that prevent non-patent holders from studying, testing or even looking at a particular gene. In a petition for writ of certiorari filed with the Supreme Court Wednesday, the ACLU claims:
The patenting of isolated DNA violates long-established Supreme Court precedent that prohibits the patenting of laws of nature, natural phenomena, products of nature, and abstract ideas. … Patents on isolated DNA, whether small segments or whole genes, also violate the First Amendment because they block scientific inquiry into the patented DNA.
The particular genes in this case, BRCA1 and BRCA2 [NCI backgrounder], are two key genes related to breast and ovarian cancer research. Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation [official websites] currently hold the patents on the genes and thus hold the rights the genes and are able to set the cost of testing and prevent researchers from studying the gene without gaining permission first.
The appeals court’s decision countered the position held by the Obama administration, which had submitted an amicus curie brief [text, PDF] in support of the ACLU and PUBPAT. The US Patent and Trademark Office [official website] has issued patents for genes for decades. Such patents cover nearly 2,000 human genes and genetic research companies hold patents to approximately 20 percent of the human genetic code. Supporters of the patents argue that restricting patents on human genes would decrease the amount of genetic research performed by the public sector because it would no longer be profitable for companies to study human genes. Opponents claim that these restrictions often prevent patients from receiving proper medical care and complicate the research process in a way that deters potential researchers.