Court: Human genes cannot be patented
Washington (CNN) - The Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Thursday that human genes cannot be patented.
But in something of a compromise, all nine justices said while the naturally occurring isolated biological material itself is not patentable, a synthetic version of the gene material may be patented.
Legal and medical experts believe the decision will have a lasting impact on genetic testing, likely making varieties more widely available and more affordable.
The overriding legal question addressed was whether "products of nature" can be treated the same as "human-made" inventions, allowing them to be held as the exclusive intellectual property of individuals and companies.
The broader issue involved 21st century conflicts over cutting-edge medical science, the power of business and individual legal rights, and how their convergence might influcence decisionmaking over how people and medicine manage the prospect and reality of certain diseases, like cancer.
The issue has deeply divided the scientific and business communities. But it was a blockbuster celebrity, actress Angelina Jolie who brought it to the public in announcing last month that she underwent a double mastectomy following a genetic test.
The Supreme Court case involves Myriad Genetics, a Utah-based company that was sued over its claim of patents relating to two types of biological material that it identified -- BRCA1 and BRCA2, whose mutations are linked to increased hereditary risk for breast and ovarian cancer.
Since Myriad owns the patent on breast cancer genes, it was the only company that could perform tests for potential abnormalities.
It says 1 million patients have benefited from its "BRAC Analysis" technology, and that about 250,000 such tests are performed yearly.
An initial test catches most problems, but the company also offers a second called BART to detect the rest, a diagnostic that can cost several thousand dollars.
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