Natural genes can't be patented says U.S. government

In a reversal of long-standing policy, the U.S. Justice Department announced on Friday that naturally occurring genes—human or otherwise—could not be patented. This ruling does not include manipulated or altered genes. So, for instance, you can still patent the specific, fiddled-with genes behind a GM crop. But, this is still a very big deal. Right now the genes associated with increased risk of breast cancer are patented and, thus, there is only one, very expensive, test available to look for them. In March, a judge ruled those patents invalid. And now it looks like the federal government is backing up that ruling.


  1. This is hard to say since I haven’t had much chances to practice it but…

    …well done Obama administration .

    1. In the meantime you could have been practicing your plurals or working on differentiating between mass nouns and count nouns, but I suppose it became nothing but wasted time in the end.
      Looking pretty good on the ol’ truth-o-meter.

      Reversing Bush’s moronic ban on stem cell research. (BTW, thanks for standing in the way of medicine for 8 years because of your twisted moral fairytale, republiturds). The only president in history to achieve universal health care. That’s a pretty crappy feat, huh? Terrible. What a failure.

  2. I’m pleased at this news. Seems a good thing.

    However, it is the promise of commercial return that funnels the funds into this expensive research in the first place. A counter-product of this move might be to reduce overall research funding.

    1. Sadly they avoid some of the medically most important research, anti-bacterials, because nature will adapt before the big companies get the ROI needed to make a profit. Basically they have grown to large for our best interests.

  3. That’s the thing though, the breast cancer thing, it’s not expensive research it’s ludicrously cheap research and a lot of statistics. A bunch of lawyers and the INSANE US patent system has been screwing with patient care. I’m taking a bottle of champagne into work on Monday.

  4. Isn’t the distinction between naturally occurring genes and artificial ones problematic? If you got a GM animal to mate with non-GM individual, what would the genes of the new individual count as?
    Don’t know anything about genetics, so maybe the question is dumb. But it would still be instructive to know how.

  5. Read more carefully. The DoJ went against other parts of the government, including the USPTO, in a case where it argued in an amicus brief that genes *should* not be patented. These patents won’t start being rejected or invalidated unless the anti-gene-patent side of this court case wins on appeal (which I very sincerely hope they do!).

  6. from the article: “However, the government suggested such a change would have limited impact on the biotechnology industry because man-made manipulations of DNA, like methods to create genetically modified crops or gene therapies, could still be patented.”

  7. Should we look at this as a glass half empty, or as half full. Until we shelve the whole gene patenting idea we’ll have companies like Monsanto running agriculture and bullying farmers into buying their seed.

  8. Sounds to me like the gov’t wants to yank the carpet out from under opposition to stem cell research.

    From the top: Opposition to stem cell research has nothing to do with abortion – that was always the Official Wedge Topic. Private companies have always been allowed to research with stem cells.

    If you can patent human genes, and if you make money with some maintenance drug, such as insulin, you can bury the patent that details the cure for your favorite disease. Then you can sell insulin, forever, and profit from human suffering.

    But you generally can’t patent genes discovered via public research. THAT’s why the GOP has always trumpeted opposition to stem cell research. Obeying their corporate masters, they really only oppose stem cell research that CAN’T BE PATENTED.

  9. Thank you Maggie. This news made my day. I remember being 17, standing on a very remote mountain top in the Philippines telling a local how I wanted to study Biology in college. He then told me how a foreign agricultural conglomerate had been up the year previous gathering indigenous flora to patent their genome. At that time I had no idea what he was talking about and was completely nonplussed. Yeah, well, I so totally get it now.

    Now, let’s keep a good thing going and see to it that unless being patented by owner, human derived cell lines cannot be patented as well.

    I hope this really craps on the Monsanto Board’s Halloween festivities. You know the one where they sacrifice babies and virgins for increased profits the next growing season…..

  10. While I hope what this post implies becomes true in the future, the Department of Justice didn’t “announce” anything. First of all, the DOJ doesn’t have the power to make decisions regarding what is patentable and what is not–that’s the province of the Patent and Trademark Office, and the federal courts. Second, all the DOJ did was file an amicus brief on the case stating its position. These “friend of the court” briefs are often filed by the government and other organizations (the ACLU, for example) in favor of a position, in an attempt to persuade the court to decide one way or the other. So, while this is significant in that it seems that government agencies are taking a stand on one side of this issue, it has no immediate, practical significance.

  11. If somebody wants to own the patents to the genes that are associated with breast cancer, then more power to them.

    As long as they accept the associated liability.

  12. Law types please explain to me: When you patent a natural plant, how is there no prior art? It’s growing right there!

  13. I’m actually quite disappointed with this. “Ownership” under pretty much the laws of anywhere also directly implies responsibility. If a person owns a dog, and that dog bites a neighbor, the dog-owner is of course liable even if the dog was acting without direct control of the owner at the time of the incident. If a company wishes to patent (say) a breast-cancer gene, they own it and therefore are responsible for it. I was really looking forward to the day a cancer patient took them to court seeking compensation for the damage their gene caused!

  14. First, patents don’t give ownership to anyone’s genes. I have never had a company or patent owner knock on my door and try to reposses a part of my anatomy. So, I don’t understand how this discussion went down a path of Myriad or another having an ownership of a part of me. I think we have an amendment in our Constitution that prevents that.

    Patents allow the patentee the right to commercalize information that is genetically based. These types of information can be used diagnostically or therapeutically. Thank goodness diabetics don’t have to rely on purified insulin as it can now be safetly and reliably produced using isolated “genes.”

    The research underlying the isolation and characterization of the “genes” in this lawsuit is quite old, back when gene research was laborious and fret with uncertainty and failure. So, you can’t look at the research in view of today’s technology that has greatly simplified gene seqeuncing. Today, patents on isolated, naturally occuring genes are quite difficult to obtain because of these advances and the plethora of prior art.

    What is lost in this discussion is that universities and the federal government do not have the resources to take research from the laboratory to the public – especially through the expensive drug approval process. Yes, the test was expensive, but if the plaintiffs in this lawsuit had health insurance to cover the tests, it would have been affordable. If they would have had access to the test, they would not have had much thought as to who owned the technology.

  15. What with the DOJ’s brief arguing that isolated genes are unpatentable, Myriad’s chances of success on the merits of its case seem increasingly remote. I know some patent law practitioners reading this blog may hate hearing it, but I think that this is the right position. In any case, I hope this issue still goes up to the SCOTUS and the Court grants cert, because I’m looking forward to reading that opinion.

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