For the past several years, scientists the world over have been mapping the human genome in an attempt to isolate the genes that cause the diseases and disorders we hear about every day. But while scientists are discovering the genetic hiccups that cause so many problems, arguments over patents are putting a hold on turning these discoveries into treatments and cures.
The patent arguments have become so enraged that the U.S. Supreme Court has been forced into the matter. In 2009, an intellectual property lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation. The suit challenged seven patents held by Myriad Genetics Inc for two human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Though the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recognizes the company's discoveries as patentable information, the plaintiffs disagree, arguing that the genes are a product of nature and therefore cannot be patented under the Patent Act.
The case came to the U.S. Supreme Court after an appeals court judge reversed a previous decision by a federal court which ruled the patents to be invalid. But while the courts disagree over whether the genes are a natural phenomenon or not, a group of people against the holding of human genome patents points out that other researchers are giving up on necessary cure research because of legal issues.
It is said that in a 2003 survey, 53 percent of directors in genetics labs said they gave up on some research because of gene-patent concerns. In other surveys, doctors have explained that the limits placed on them because of gene patents prevents them from making proper diagnoses and often interferes with the creation of cures as well. It's an issue that some Texas-based genetics labs may be encountering as well and hope the Supreme Court can remedy.
Source: Reuters News, "U.S. top court weighs patentability of human genes," Sharon Begley, April 14, 2013