In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided this week that human genes cannot be patented. A biotech company, Myriad Genetics, held patents on two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. But the Court ruled that because the company had simply isolated the genes and had not synthetically created something new, the patents were not valid. The company argued that allowing patents on human genes incentivizes research. But critics said it would hamper science by raising the cost of testing. What does the decision mean for medical and scientific research?

Lauren Sommer, science and environment reporter for KQED Public Radio
Mildred Cho, associate director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics and a professor in Stanford's Department of Pediatrics

  • Torremolinos

    Finally some proof that the USA is not completely insane (yet), genetic patents on evolved life are ruled illegal. Now, if they could just do the same to software patents and end that scourge as well. So many software patents are based on topics that have long been in use, or are even taught in programming classes. And why should software be patentable anyway? Our patent system is too often the enemy of innovation.

  • James Ivey

    We have patents because we are not willing to publicly fund research. Patents give rights to exclude to encourage private funding of research. These rights to exclude are no different than private ownership of a home that “blocks out” homeless people who would be helped if we just abandoned private ownership of homes. All property rights “block out” somebody from doing what they’d like to do, even if it’s a good thing.

    If we refuse to publicly fund research and we eliminate incentives for private research, we just won’t have research. Who will invest millions of dollars to create the next genetic test?

    • Chemist150

      In this case, I think a 15 year patent is a bit much. I agree that there should be some reward for looking for it. However, now they’ll have to keep the information private and in some cases they may be able to produce tests around it such that it’s hard to figure out what the gene is.

      A 5 year patent would allow the company to get the head start for doing the up front work and it would become public sooner.

      • James Ivey

        Patents represent millions of dollars of research and last only 15 years. Copyrights represent things as inexpensive to create as a snapshot and last 150 years. That’s just crazy.

        The solution is really quite simple. If we want public access to all technology, let the public fund the research. We did it for the human genome project; we can do it for other projects too.

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