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No One Can Patent Genes, The Supreme Court Rules

In a landmark decision, the court invalidated a company’s attempts to control sections of our genetic code that it had discovered.

Today, the Court ruled in a unanimous decision that no part of the human DNA sequence—or the DNA of any living organism—was patentable. This is a huge decision that will have massive effects on the continued research of genetic code, and the development of treatments for people based on their genes.

The case was specifically about Myriad Genetics, the company that discovered the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 mutations that can lead to higher incidences of breast cancer. They patented these sequences, which critics argued made the test for them (made recently famous by Angelina Jolie) often prohibitively expensive. Myriad argued, in turn, that without the possibility of future financial gain, there would be no incentive for companies to sink money into searching for these genes.

The court ruled 9-0 that genes were products of nature and not human-made inventions, which makes them ineligible for a patent.

On the other hand, synthetic genes—i.e. genetic modifications a company makes—are still up for patents (this fits with the court’s recent support of Monsanto’s GM corn).