In a huge
ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet has said that gene patents are invalid
. As you may recall, last May, the ACLU was the first to finally challenge
whether or not genes could be patented. There was a lot of back and forth over the case, with many saying that a ruling against gene patents would throw a wrench into the business plans of many companies, because so many biotech/medical companies have been relying on the idea that gene patents must be valid for so long. But just because many companies relied on a mistaken understanding of patent law, doesn't mean that it should be allowed to continue. The judge made the point clear when it came to gene patents, saying that they:
"are directed to a law of nature and were therefore improperly granted."
The case was brought against Myriad Genetics, who will surely appeal, so this is nowhere close to over. But it involved a test for breast cancer, that Myriad basically had a monopoly over -- and the claim was that this not only made it more difficult for women to get tested, but it also greatly discouraged other research in the field. In part, this was because the patents that Myriad held were incredibly broad
Patents, of course, are not supposed to be granted on things found in in nature -- and it's hard to argue against the idea that genes are found in nature. Supporters of gene patents often claim that they're not really gene patents, but a patent on identifying the gene, which is a nice semantic game that the judge clearly saw through. This is a huge step forward for encouraging more real
research into genetic testing, rather than locking up important information.