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Can a Company Obtain a Patent on Human Genes?
The US Supreme Court, the highest court in America, has a unique case in front of them. Unique because a Utah company wants to patent on human genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, both related to breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Simply put, if allowed a patent, the company,Myriad, will have exclusive rights to these two common human genes, pieces of our DNA.
The nine justices have presided over many important issues that they actually knew something about. But this case, it is humorously apparent, they know very little about biotechnology, DNA, ,RNA, exons, tagging and base pairing.
It was apparent to Myriad's attorney that trying to explain to the judges was no different than explaining to a lay person. It was apparent when after he pleaded his case, what the judges asked and how they tried to reason with the whole complex (and over their heads) process.
Justice Breyer tried with, "if you could get a super microscope, you would discover something with an A there and you wouldn't discover something with a U there and there is no such thing in nature as a the AGG, whatever". It is clear Breyer knew he was in uncharted waters and found himself drowning the "whatever", signifying total confusion. What he said made no sense and he knew it.
But it was the inquisitive, Sotomayor, who within an hour asked 38 questions. Breyer has asked only 26 and was still dumbfounded. LOL. Clarence Thomas did not ask a single question, perhaps to avoid sounding totally stupid about a subject none of them knew much about. She tried her best to understand genetics using cooking examples:
"I can bake a chocolate chip cookie using natural ingredients: salt, flour, eggs, butter. If I combined those in some new way, I can get a patent on this, but I can't imagine getting a patent simply on the basic items".
The attorney for Myriad tried to explain that a gene sequence from a human genome is like a baseball bat because it does not exist until it is isolated from the tree it is made from. Alito admitted that the baseball bat example was at least easier to comprehend than the biochemistry the attorney presented. So anything a company snips out of a human body can be patented? Do they own it or only have exclusive rights to it because they snipped it out first?
Alito then went on talking about, "Suppose, the leaves of a plant found in the Amazon had medicinal benefits, would taking a leaf from the plant the same and could be patented?" What if 50 new plants are discovered there?
The discussion went of course and the examples the judges were using posed more unclarity than clarity. Funny, and they are going to decide this???