A case currently in federal court questions whether it should be possible to patent genetic sequences. At issue is whether Utah-based Myriad Genetics, a biotech company, should be allowed to hold patents on genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are linked to increased risk of developing breast cancer. Although courts have held that "products of nature" and "laws of nature" are not patentable, the US Patent Office has been awarding patents involving genetic sequences for over 20 years. Currently, thousands of genetic sequences have been patented.
In May of this year, the ACLU organized a lawsuit, Association For Molecular Pathology et al v. United States Patent and Trademark Office et al, seeking to have the Myriad patents thrown out. Part of their argument centers on the US Constitution, which gives Congress power "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." Because the gene patents hinder scientific progress, the lawsuit argues, the Patent and Trademark Office acted against the Constitution in granting those patents.
We'll talk about the case, and the arguments on both sides of the issue.
Produced by Annette Heist, Senior Producer