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U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Human Genes Are Not Patentable



From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that businesses cannot control the rights to human genes in their natural state. Patients’ rights groups are calling the decision a victory. The court, however, left room to protect the patent ownership rights on some other important biotechnology applications.

The court’s decision was in a case involving the biotechnology company Myriad Genetics. The company had identified human genes that increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. The company applied for and was given exclusive rights  over the use of those genes.

Attorney Sandra Park works with the American Civil Liberties Union. She says the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been allowing patents on some DNA for 30 years.

"What was problematic about these patents was that Myriad was able to use those patents to stop other laboratories from providing genetic testing, even when those other laboratories were using different methods."

Miss Park says that means that genetic testing for increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer cost more because of the lack of competition. And she says the gene patent prevented patients from getting a second medical opinion based on some other test.

But the Supreme Court has now rejected this type of patent, all nine justices agreed that because genes are products of nature, they can not be owned by one business.

Lisbeth Ceriani helped bring the case against Myriad. She is a breast cancer survivor who struggled to pay for Myriad’s test.

"Our genes are not being held hostage by a private corporation anymore. We have the right to know that our doctor can look at our own genes to see what information is there."

Health activists say the ruling will lower costs and improve testing for breast and ovarian cancer, and other conditions for which companies have gene patents.

Myriad Genetics also created man made versions of the genes and patented those, too. These versions are called complimentary DNA  or cDNA. For example, cDNA is used to make insulin to treat people with diabetes.

The Supreme Court said patents on such man made genes are permitted because cDNA does not exist in nature.

Jennifer Swize is a lawyer for Myriad Genetics.

"To Myriad, the decision is a win. For all practical purposes, companies like Myriad use the cDNA claims to do their testing."

Myriad’s stock price grows after the Supreme Court gave its ruling on June, 13th, this suggested that investors saw the decision as a good one for the biotechology industry.

And that’s the Technology Report from VOA Learning English, written by Onka Dekker. For more of our reports, visit our website at We are also on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I am Avi Arditti.