by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
australia, brca, gene patents


Myriad Offers To Give Up Its Infamous Gene Patent In Australia

from the but-why? dept

We've been covering the legal fight over the patenting of genes for quite some time, and there's been an interesting (if odd) development, concerning the BRCA patents, held by Myriad Genetics, that have been the key patents in the legal battle. Back in March, a district court judge famously held that genes were unpatentable, and said that the BRCA patents (covering genes related to breast cancer) were invalid. A few months later, it was interesting to see a very similar case filed in Australia, also against Myrida and over BRCA patents.

However, as Glyn Moody alerts us, there's been a slightly surprising development down in Australia, as Myriad has offered to surrender the patent to the people of Australia. Specifically, Myriad sent a letter, stating:
"Myriad wishes to gift Australian Patent No 686004 [the '004 Patent] to the people of Australia."
This is, certainly, an odd turn of events, and no one's quite sure why. Some have suggested that it's to help with the US case by avoiding another ruling against such patents in Australia -- but as the article notes, that makes little sense. The patent systems are different in the US and Australia and have little, if any, impact on one another. My guess (and it's a guess) is that Myriad realized that this one particular patent is weak, and doesn't want it to be a part of any lawsuit that could impact its other patents or the wider ability to patent genes, and is thus offering it up to get it out of the lawsuit. That's an admittedly cynical take, but I'm having trouble coming up with other possibilities that make sense. Perhaps any readers more familiar with the Australian patent system can fill us in on why they think this is happening.

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  • icon
    trench0r (profile), 6 Oct 2010 @ 7:04pm

    just because you're paranoid, don't mean they're not after you...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TN, 6 Oct 2010 @ 8:44pm

    Dunno about the patent system, but here in Oz, we now have a hung parliament, and one of the new deals that came out of the horse-trading to install a govt., was the abilitiy of individual MPs to put forward policy suggestions/issues and for those individual MPs to be given an equal hearing rather than be set aside because the govt. of the day usually controls which policies/issues will be dealt with due to its majority.

    So, this provides an environment where EVERYTHING can be on the table: a carbon tax, euthanasia, gay marriage, reining-in our gambling businesses, taxing not-for-profits, etc. Gene patents would likely beome part of that mix.

    Generally, gene patents aren't popular with the Australian public -- and it's more to do with the fact that we have universal healthcare. Having to pay a private company, exorbitant fees, for access to life-saving procedures, doesn't sit well with the community. This becomes the springboard to, who owns my genes?

    Labor (govt. since last month) seems lukewarm about gene patents; some Opposition MPs are dead-set AGAINST gene patents; and the Greens publicly stated goals include 'a ban on patenting all living organisms - plants, animals and micro-organisms - and naturally occurring DNA code sequence information'.

    The Greens entered an agreement, which helped Labor to further its desire to form govt. Then, two country independents supported Labor, so that it could definitely form govt. Health services are a major issue in rural regions. At a guess, it's unlikely the country independents would support an expensive system that disadvantages their rural constituencies.

    Also, the Greens will have the balance-of-power in the senate, after July 2011.

    Our new govt., the changed environment, and who's pulling the strings has meant that a lot of enterprises/stakeholders/lobby groups/others have had to refocus, due to the current circumstances.

    Just saying, cos this is a major part of what encompasses the country for up to the next 3-or-so years (we don't have fixed terms of govt).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anons, 6 Oct 2010 @ 8:44pm

    If a company has patent on a cancer gene, and someone dies because of said gene, wouldn't the company be responsible for not being diligent in keeping their invention from running amok and killing someone?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Randomguy, 6 Oct 2010 @ 8:46pm

    As a person of Australia, I'd be happy to license out my shiny new patent free to anyone who wants it!

    But seriously, why would they do this? Gesture of goodwill?

    Maybe it's (somehow?) an attempt to preempt a motion to ban gene patents being pushed by a Western Australia MP. Indeed, this seems to be triggered by a local licensee of a Myriad patent attempting to enforce their patent to limit testing for breast cancer (which Techdirt previously wrote about).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Paul Renault (profile), 7 Oct 2010 @ 4:46am


      Damn! I came here to say exactly that: 1) it's an attempt to head off a ban on genes' patents and; 2) it's to protect their other patents.

      As well, by "gifting" (shudder) the patent to People of Australia, they'd probably get a huge tax write-off based on ficticious lost sales.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 6 Oct 2010 @ 9:27pm

    Time bomb

    "Myriad wishes to gift Australian Patent No 686004 [the '004 Patent] to the people of Australia."

    They probably figure it's a time bomb and don't want to be left holding the bag. Merry F-ing Christmas Australia.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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