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Reassessing Genetic Patents

On Bioephemera, Jessica Palmer considers the evolving relationship between patent law and DNA, as the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit hears the appeal of Association for Molecular Pathology v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. At stake are patents that Myriad Genetics holds on two genes—BRCA1 and BRCA2—that it earned in the 1990’s. These genes correlate with breast cancer risk, and Myriad is the sole supplier of BRCA diagnostic tests in the United States. Jess explains that such patents do not mean a biotechnology company owns the DNA in our cells, but “a patent holder may have the right to exclude scientists from isolating or copying pieces of genomic DNA (or cDNAs) and/or using them for research, therapy, or clinical diagnosis.” BRCA testing currently costs about $3000 per individual, providing 88% of Myriad’s revenue. Many people argue that patents are necessary to provide incentives for costly research and development. But Jeffrey Toney suggests a different future on Dean’s Corner, saying “legal cases such as Myriad could serve as a turning point for scientists to embrace open innovation, liberating them from the constraints that patents can impose.”

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