The Supreme Court set aside a lower court ruling that allowed a company to patent two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer and limit access to potentially life-saving genetic tests for at risk-women, giving women a rare victory over corporate interests and continuing a promising line of decisions that refuses to corporatize human genetics.
The Public Patent Foundation (PUBAT) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the patents held by Myriad Genetics on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Last year an appellate court held those patents were valid. Now that the judgment has been vacated, the case will go back to the same three-judge panel who issued the original decision. They then decide the next steps and the timeline for the case.
“In light of recent rulings from the court that mere laws of nature cannot be patented, we hope that the lower court will come to the correct conclusion this time around,” said Chris Hansen, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “It’s inconceivable that a company can own a patent on something as naturally occurring as DNA.”
The Supreme Court ordered the Federal Circuit to reconsider its decision in light of a Supreme Court ruling earlier in the month where the Court unanimously invalidated a patent on a medical test because it covered a “law of nature.”
“Nobody ‘invents’ genes, so no one should be able to claim ownership of them,” said Daniel B. Ravicher, executive director of PUBPAT and co-counsel in the lawsuit. “We are not talking about a new drug or a new tool to fight cancer. We are talking about a genetic marker that occurs naturally in the human body. That cannot, and should not, be patented.”
The decision is especially important because it quite literally will save women’s lives. “Preventing the free flow of ideas regarding genetic testing is not only unlawful, it is dangerous to patients,” said Sandra Park, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Women are staking their lives on the results of these tests. They deserve to have the best quality care. It is encouraging that the court has determined that the appellate court’s decision requires further review.”
For once the high court sided with individuals over corporate interests, an encouraging development especially in light of the concerns over whether or not the court will invalidate Obamacare.
Photo from Stew Dan via flickr.