WASHINGTON - Molecules and chocolate-chip cookies, baseball bats, and Amazonian tree sap were all part of a spirited Supreme Court discussion Monday as the nine justices wrestled with the question of whether one should be able to get a patent for a human gene.
If you slice up pieces of microscopic molecules, have you created new ones or just separated existing body parts, not unlike kidneys or livers, which are products of nature and not usually granted patents? And, more important in this matter, can you profit by preventing others from researching those molecules or providing lower-cost testing services?
The justices seemed to be looking for a compromise in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics Inc. AMP was part of the original group of plaintiffs that represented researchers, including two from the University of Pennsylvania, patient groups, and six women, including one from Williamsport, Pa., with breast or ovarian cancer or a family history of either. The plaintiffs say Myriad's patent-provided monopoly on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes has stifled research because of Myriad's threats of lawsuits, and limited access to affordable testing for those cancers.