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ACLU sues over patents on breast cancer genes


PeterMP

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We have one intellectual property thread that appears to be going well. I thought this might make an interesting companion.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/05/12/us.genes.lawsuit/index.html

"The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Myriad, arguing that patenting pure genes is unconstitutional and hinders research for a cancer cure.

Marsh said the company is aware the lawsuit has been filed but has not yet been served any legal documents.

"We do intend to vigorously defend our intellectual property rights," Marsh said. He noted a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision related to gene patenting that he said cleared the way for "tens of thousands of genetic and genetic-related patents" to be granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office."

"The lawsuit also challenges genetic patenting in general, noting that about 20 percent of all human genes are patented -- including genes associated with Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy and asthma.

"It is absolutely our intent that upon victory this will rend invalid patents on many other genes," said Dan Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation and a patent law professor at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. "We just had to pick one case as our case.""

"Myriad's patents give it exclusive right to perform diagnostic tests on the genes, forcing other researchers to request permission from the company before they can take a look at BRCA1 and BRCA2, the ACLU said. The patents also give the company the rights to future mutations on the BRCA2 gene and the power to exclude others from providing genetics testing.

The company also charged $3,000 a test, possibly keeping some women from seeking preventative genetic testing, the ACLU says."

I was surpirsed by patents on biological things like this the first time I learned about them as an undergrad. They found the gene and what it does, but the sequence is actually in the public domain.

Should they be able to patent them and therefore essentially stop anybody else from doing any work with them, including testing to see if people have a mutation likely to cause cancer?

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This is something I don't get at all. They could patent something they developed, or they could refuse to disclose information on a gene they mapped, but how can they patent a gene that exists in nature, any more than I could patent the GPS co-ordinates of all the buildings in a city.

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