Share This Page

You can't patent DNA: A commonsense ruling

| Saturday, June 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

There was a rare convergence of common sense, the law, science and all of the applicable political “isms” last week in the Supreme Court's ruling that human genes cannot be patented.

Simply put, separating a gene from its surrounding genetic material “is not an act of invention,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas for a rare unanimous court.

But that's exactly what Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City did. And the U.S. Patent Office awarded Myriad patents for two mutated gene sequences, the existence of which can predict if a patient is at high risk for breast or ovarian cancer.

Yet the patents on the unpatentable had a number of perverse effects. Not only did they allow Myriad to monopolize the price of testing, they limited the ability of other scientists to conduct their own research on the genes.

The bottom line of the ruling is that research will become more competitive (the court held that Myriad and others can seek to patent synthetic, “complementary” genes of their invention, and their testing and screening processes can remain protected), the cost of testing for these marker genes will fall and the door will be flung open to more and varied research sure to result in even greater advances.

Otherwise, as Mr. Justice Thomas noted, there would be “considerable danger” in stifling innovations that would be the antithesis of patents —“which exist to promote creation.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.