Under US patent law, no one can patent what occurs in nature. Inventors can patent the microscope that zooms in on an insect in the Amazon rainforest - or a drug that they invent based on the insect’s DNA - but not the insect itself. Yet for the past three decades, the US Patent and Trademark Office has been doling out exclusive patent rights to companies and universities for gene sequences they isolate from human chromosomes. In effect, researchers who discover what a specific gene does can retain the exclusive right to study it, and develop tests and therapies related to it.
But tomorrow a federal court in New York will hear a crucial legal challenge against the patent office and a Utah company, Myriad Genetics. The plaintiffs - a group that includes medical researchers, doctors associations, patient advocacy groups, and the American Civil Liberties Union - are challenging the validity of Myriad’s patents for two gene sequences responsible for most hereditary cases of breast and ovarian cancer. These patents give the company a monopoly on tests that show women whether they are likely to get cancer based on mutations in those sequences - and on research that could help develop better tests and less toxic treatments for cancer. Such research should be an open avenue of scientific inquiry.
From: "Protect biotech research, but not by patenting genes - The Boston Globe."