Gene Patent Policy Under Review by Congress

Dome of US Capitol Building
Thursday, June 6, 2019

A new article in Wired by Megan Molteni describes potentially momentous changes in the legal status of gene patents. According to Molteni, "In 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down patents on two human genes – BRCA1 and BRCA2 – associated with breast and ovarian cancers. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court at the time that isolated DNA 'is a product of nature and not patent eligible.' The historic decision invalidated patents held by Myriad Genetics" and opened the way for companies like 23andMe to offer direct-to-consumer tests of BRCA and other genes. A new bill making its way through Congress would make "changes to several sections of the statutes covering patent law and [add] a provision that would nullify the Supreme Court’s exceptions." The congressional debate is driven by concerns that overly stringent patent rules are hindering US companies from creating potentially lucrative new diagnostic tools, allowing rivals like China to outpace American innovation. Hearings are currently underway to clarify the intention of the bill and ensure it effectively addresses industry concerns. Read the entire Wired article here, and one on the same topic from GenomeWeb here. For more information about genomics law and policy, visit the NIH-funded LawSeqSM website, created by the Consortium in collaboration with Vanderbilt University.