Judge Allows Constitutional Challenge to Human Gene Patents

November 4th, 2009

From Law.com, H/T @ACSLaw:

Opponents of patenting human gene sequences were handed a rare court victory on Monday, when a federal judge refused to dismiss a suit challenging patents for two genes tied to cancers in women.

The case revolves around seven patents relating to human genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, mutations of which have been tied to breast and ovarian cancer. The patents are owned by the University of Utah and licensed to Salt Lake City-based Myriad Genetics. In the late 1990s, Myriad began contacting researchers at the National Cancer Institute and various universities who were working with BRCA1 and BRCA2, demanding they cease their research on the genes and stop testing women for risk-carrying mutations.

The plaintiffs claimed that the BRCA1 and BRCA2 patents are invalid because they cover “products of nature,” and they alleged that Myriad’s attempts to enforce the patents by limiting genetic research violated First Amendment protections. In their motions to dismiss, Myriad (represented by Jones Day) and the PTO argued that the suit should be dismissed because the plaintiffs lacked personal and subject matter jurisdiction and because they failed to state a claim for a constitutional violation.

Patents for human genes are a hot topic right now. Check out the tragedy of the anticommons for more background.