Federal judge strikes down gene patents

From the NYT:

A federal judge on Monday struck down patents on two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. The decision, if upheld, could throw into doubt the patents covering thousands of human genes and reshape the law of intellectual property.

Judge Sweet, however, ruled that the patents were “improperly granted” because they involved a “law of nature.” He said that many critics of gene patents considered the idea that isolating a gene made it patentable “a ‘lawyer’s trick’ that circumvents the prohibition on the direct patenting of the DNA in our bodies but which, in practice, reaches the same result.”

The case could have far-reaching implications. About 20 percent of human genes have been patented, and multibillion-dollar industries have been built atop the intellectual property rights that the patents grant.

The pro-patenting argument:

Edward Reines, a patent lawyer who represents biotechnology firms but was not involved in the case, said loss of patent protection could diminish the incentives for genetic research.

“The genetic tools to solve the major health problems of our time have not been found yet,” said Mr. Reines, who is with the Silicon Valley office of the firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges. “These are the discoveries we want to motivate by providing incentives to all the researchers out there.”

I’m very skeptical that biotech firms need to patent genes to have incentive for research. Firms and schools should be content to patent novel inventions and processes related to the study of genetics, not correlations between genes and diseases.

Also, a WSJ article.

The 152 page decision of the judge. (pdf)

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