United States District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet has invalidated Myriad Genetics’s infamous “breast cancer patent” — a patent on genetic mutations that cause breast cancer, which Myriad has exercised in the form of a high lab-fee for analysis on samples (Myriad threatens to sue any independent lab that performs the analysis).
The suit was brought by the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation, who argued that US Patent and Trademark Office was wrong to grant patents on genes, as these are not patentable subject matter. The judge agreed, saying that gene patents are patents on a “law of nature” and called the isolation of genes and filing patents on them
“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.”
I think that the problem here is in the untested idea that imparting exclusive rights to the genome will incentivize more research than allowing anyone to build on discoveries in the genome. It’s clear that some exclusive rights provide an incentive so some people to do work. But these exclusive rights also scare off people who have good ideas but are worried about being bankrupted by someone who beat them to the patent.
Does anyone really believe that secrets in science lead to more discoveries and inventions than open exchange of ideas? I don’t.