The Supreme Court ruled today in the case involving Myriad Genetics’ patent on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Thankfully, they found that DNA sequences are not patentable because they are a product of nature. The Myriad lawyers had argued that the acts of isolation and sequencing make DNA “inventions” rather than natural discoveries, but the court wasn’t buying that argument.
As I’ve noted previously, not only do I find Myriad’s argument wrong in theory, I also find it misleading in practice. They did not bear any of the costs or risks in actually discovering the sequences in the first place. These two genes were identified in an academic lab at the University of Utah. The original paper describing BRCA1 and BRCA2 acknowledges numerous NIH grants as the source of funding.
Most comments I’ve seen on Twitter seem excited or relieved about the ruling, including one by the NIH Director himself, Francis Collins:
— Francis S. Collins (@NIHDirector) June 13, 2013
Science writer Carl Zimmer linked to a blog post pointing out some factual errors in the ruling:
Composite DNA, complementary DNA, pseudogenes…man, the Supreme Court needs a biology lesson. http://t.co/PSrCJXLYRN
— carlzimmer (@carlzimmer) June 13, 2013
Comments on the blog post point out not only factual mistakes, but also an inherent contradiction in the reasoning of the ruling, which is more disturbing still. Details matter, and I’m not impressed by the way the law is (mis)interpreting molecular biology.