Noteworthy: Are Genes Patentable?

From a scientist’s standpoint, the Supreme Court’s ruling this week in the case of the “Association for Molecular Pathology et al., v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., et al. is perversely logical. For the molecular biologists reading this, frustrated by the ambiguity in the mainstream media, the ruling can be summarized into 3 bullet points:

  • DNA sequences are not patentable
  • mRNA sequences are not patentable
  • cDNA sequences ARE patentable

 

DNA sequences are not patentable because they exist in nature. The act of identifying the gene using common techniques does not enable to discoverer to patent either the location of the gene or its sequence so that others cannot utilize this information because she did not create the sequence or cause it to be in that location of the genome. This protection from patent coverage applies to all variations of the gene, including sequences with specific mutations linked to disease states.

 

mRNA (both as transcribed and once spliced) is not patentable because it is found in nature. If a scientist isolates mRNA, she did not create it, and therefore, she is not creating a new product.

 

It should be noticed, that the courts have ruled that if a scientist discovers a new method to isolate either DNA, mRNA, cDNA, or any similar scientific tool, then this new method would be patentable, even though the sequences discovered using the method might not be.

 

However, cDNA is created in a lab, even if naturally occurring enzymes and chemicals are used to create it. The theory behind this part of the ruling is that in the absence of human intervention, these specific sequences of DNA would not exist (the gene with the absence of introns). Thus the scientist has created a new a new patentable product.  I’ll be discussing this ruling over a few posts, from different angles. In my next post I’ll discuss the impact that this ruling has for molecular biologists.

 

The official ruling can be found here.