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The Courts Biotech Medicine Patents

Supreme Court: No Patents For Natural DNA Sequences 214

Posted by timothy
from the finer-distinction-than-I'd-like dept.
ColdWetDog writes "The ongoing story of Myriad Genetics versus the rest of the world has come to an end. In a 9-0 decision, the US Supreme Court has decided that human genes cannot be patented. From a brief Bloomberg article: 'Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said isolated DNA is a "product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated." At the same time, Thomas said synthetic molecules known as complementary DNA, or cDNA, can be patented because they require a significant amount of human manipulation to create.' Seems perfectly sane. Raw genes, the ones you find in nature are, wait for it — natural. Other bits of manipulated DNA / RNA / protein which take skill and time to create are potentially patentable. Oddly, Myriad Genetics stock actually rose on that information." Adds reader the eric conspiracy: "The result for Myriad is that they still have protection for their test, however the decision also allows researchers to work with the DNA sequences that are predecessors to the cDNA used in the test." Here's an AP report on the ruling, as carried by the Washington Post.
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Supreme Court: No Patents For Natural DNA Sequences

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  • by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @12:32PM (#43997363)

    Contrary to the uninformed popular opinion, Clarence Thomas has been very active during his time on the court. He just mostly leaves questions in oral arguments to other judges, which is only a small part of what judges do. It used to be common for Justices to take that approach, but recently it stands out since the others have started to enjoy the sound of their own cleverness much more, whether it contributes to the resolution of a case or not.

  • by Antipater (2053064) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @12:35PM (#43997403)
    Thomas writes opinions as often as any other justice. His famed silence only applies during oral arguments. And he's hardly the first "silent" justice - it's simply made more prominent by how verbose his colleagues are.
  • by sed quid in infernos (1167989) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @12:36PM (#43997419)
    Justice Thomas has been on the court for more than 20 years (which, yes, is technically 10+, but still). During that time, he has authored more than 600 opinions.
  • by LF11 (18760) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @12:37PM (#43997441) Homepage

    Yes, but they call me back. :) I don't call people unless it's important. :)

  • by sjbe (173966) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @01:06PM (#43997807)

    Ah yes. Thanks. I keep trying to apply rationality to the stock market.

    It is extremely rational behavior. Think of it like playing a poker hand. You have imperfect information so you make your bets based on the likelihoods of various results. Some results are more likely that others and you play accordingly. As more information becomes available your betting strategy may change. That is exactly what is happening here.

    One has to understand what is driving prices for the stock market to make any sense. Information about company performance is at the core but it is NOT what drives prices. There is no direct link between a company's financial performance and their stock price. What drives prices is peoples expectations and in some cases people's expectations about other people's expectations. (and even expectations about expectations about expectations... you can keep going) If you invest in the stock market you are placing a bet not so much on what a company will do but on what other people will think about the company. When you buy IBM stock you are saying in essence "I expect more people to find this valuable in the future". Any secondary market (stocks, baseball cards, tulips, real estate, etc) works this way. It's shockingly rational (with some exceptions) but highly chaotic and thus hard to predict.

  • Re: Why is it odd? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 13, 2013 @01:07PM (#43997825)

    They said may be patentable. Naturally occuring cDNA falls under the original ruling which stipulated human modification is a requirement for patent eligibility.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @01:13PM (#43997875) Homepage

    Some reasons that you get unanimous SCOTUS decisions:
    1. SCOTUS took the case primarily to send a strong message to current and future courts and legislatures and presidents. A lot of those kinds of decisions get handled at the circuit court level, but in future case law it's one thing to cite that the Ninth Circuit said this or the First Circuit said that, and it's another thing entirely to cite a unanimous decision by a fairly divided Supreme Court.
    2. It can be a judicial smack-down when a circuit court gets something wildly wrong.
    3. It could be that the Chief Justice wants to get everyone to speak with one voice on a particular issue. This usually causes decisions to take a while, as the Chief convinces the 4 holdouts to agree with the majority.

  • Re:Why is it odd? (Score:4, Informative)

    by RDW (41497) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @01:29PM (#43998035)

    Sure Myriad and their stock holders would much rather have complete patent rights to the whole thing, but they kept the protections on their actual asset

    If this is the case (and it probably is, hence the increased stock price), then the BRCA genes effectively remain patented in the US. Anyone 'skilled in the art' (like a grad student or junior technician) can trivially create 'artificial derivatives' of a known gene sequence (e.g. cDNA, as mentioned in the decision) just by 'designing' some primers (there's software to automate this), ordering them in (together with the relevant reagent kits), and following some step by step protocols. If this sort of thing is still patentable (as it seems to be), and Myriad is still the only provider allowed to offer a BRCA testing service, then the SC decision will make little practical difference for the moment - Myriad will still 'own' the genes if they are screened by standard methods. However, the decision might be good news for anyone using a 'next generation' sequencing approach, where relevant mutations are pulled out from (e.g.) a whole genome sequence (which isn't much more expensive than Myriad's price for targeted screening, and will be much cheaper in future):

    http://www.genomicslawreport.com/index.php/2010/10/11/a-do-it-yourself-genomic-challenge-to-myriad-the-fda-and-the-future-of-genetic-tests/ [genomicslawreport.com]

  • by sanchom (1681398) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @04:50PM (#44000721)

    The court on the one hand looked to the "information" contained in the isolated DNA sequence to say that it was a product of nature, and ignored the molecular changes due to cleaving the sequence from the chromosome.

    On the other hand, with respect to cDNA, the court ignored the information similarity between mRNA and cDNA and instead looked at the molecular differences.

    These two situations are distinguishable. The court said that Myriad does not "rely in any way on the chemical changes that result from the isolation of a particular section of DNA". (p 14) However, Myriad does rely on the chemical changes that distinguish cDNA from mRNA.

    Thomas did not call the construction of cDNA "trivial".

    Nowhere in nature do you find genes encoded in GATC sequences on a dioxyribose backbone with their introns removed.

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