Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Thank You to the Plaintiffs, the ACLU and Judge Sweet!

In May 2009, I wrote an article about the Patent Office and its practice of allowing the patent of human genes, specifically, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which are associated with breast and ovarian cancer.  The Patent office granted a patent on the BRCA genes to Myriad Genetics which, in essence, gave them exclusive rights as the only firm that could research, test, and provide cures for cancer related to those  genes.  That meant that Myriad could charge anything it wanted for testing and treatment, and absolutely no second opinions could be sought, because afterall, no one else could research, test or provide treatments for diseases related to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has been issuing patents on human genes for over 20 years, giving private corporations, individuals, and universities exclusive rights to those genes and to test, study, or even look at them. This is the first time a court has said that this practice is unlawful. [ACLU]
That has all changed, temporarily at least, as Myriad has vowed to appeal.  On March 30, 2010, Federal District court Judge Robert Sweet issued his ruling that human genes cannot be patented, invalidating all 15 patent claims held by Myriad on the BRCA genes.  When companies hold exclusive licenses for human genes, competition to develop gene-based applications can be restricted, prices can be inflated and innovation is slowed to a crawl.  Invalidating the patents on these genes, while it may do little in the short-term, should open up investigation, testing and treatment over the long haul, giving women more choice in the type and quality of treatment.  Ultimately, it should increase competition and reduce costs.  Today, Myriad is the only one providing that testing and they charge $3,000 just for testing.

Related articles: 
ACLU Challenges Patents On Breast Cancer Genes: BRCA
BRCA memo (PDF)
Who Owns Your Genes?  You Do.
First Federal Court Hearing on Whether Human Genes Should Be Patented
Gene Ruling Could Have Broad Reach

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