Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Case No. 11-725, on the eligibility of patenting the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which identify hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. The Court granted certiorari to hear this case after a split developed among the United States circuit court of appeals in which some courts held that identifying a gene is novel and therefore subject to U.S. patent laws, while others held that identifying a gene is merely a “law of nature” and therefore cannot be patented. While we wait for the Court to finish deliberating, we must consider the implications of its decision.
Arguments on each side of the Myriad case center on protecting innovation. The U.S. patent system boasts a successful history of protecting large investments in research, which result in innovative products. In the case at hand, Myriad Genetics has invested almost two decades and hundreds of millions of dollars into its research. Supporters of Myriad and the right to patent genes more broadly argue that without these protections locked in place, a company has no incentive to invest in discovery. READ MORE »