Can Companies Patent Human Genes?

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Today the Supreme Court hears arguments in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., a case that will determine whether companies have the right to patent human genes. 

The case centers on Myriad Genetics, a company that patented the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in 1994. For women, the presence of either BRCA gene indicates increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad Genetics discovered the genes and developed the test to determine whether patients have them.

Myriad claims that their patent corresponds to the effort their scientists expended to find the genes, rather than the genes themselves. The Association for Medical Pathology and its supporters, on the other hand, argue that the genes themselves are being patented and that, because the genes are naturally occurring, Myriad did not create a new product deserving of a patent.

Tom Taylor, assistant managing editor at Bloomberg BNA and US Law Week, explains the legal issues at hand, along with Harriet Washington, who examines the potential medical and bioethics consequences of this case.