The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group, has stated that gene patents are necessary for attracting investments that lead to innovation. In an amicus brief to the court relating to the Myriad case, the group wrote:
“In many cases, gene-based patents are critical for a biotech company’s ability to attract the capital and investment necessary for the development of innovative diagnostic, therapeutic, agricultural and environmental products. Thus, the issues raised in this case are of great importance to the U.S. biotechnology industry.”
The plaintiffs in the Myriad case argue that seven of Myriad’s 23 BRCA gene patents are illegal because genes are natural and therefore not patentable, and that the patents inhibit the diagnostic testing and research of inherited breast and ovarian cancer.
Scientists opposed to gene patents contend that numerous patents obstruct research because of the need to license or pay for patented technologies.
Some physicians and medical institutions are concerned that the growth in enforceable patents is limiting patient access to genetic diagnostic screening tests for Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and other hereditary illnesses.
Where It Stands
The Myriad case may be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final decision, provided it is not derailed by Myraid's charge that the plaintiff's do not have legal "standing," meaning they can not claim they would be financially harmed if the BRCA1 and BRCA2 patents are upheld. If the case does make it to the Supreme Court, the court could defer to Congress to bring clarity to the law. It could be many more years before a final decision is made.
In the meantime, the U.S. Patent Office is accepting filings for gene patents.