Supreme Court Considers Question of Patents for Human Genes

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments in a long-running case concerning gene patents developed at the University of Utah and used by Myriad Genetics Inc. for a test that the company sells to predict the risks associated with certain cancers. Critics have challenged the validity of the controversial patents, though the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit again upheld their legality last summer. At Monday’s arguments, the justices considered the complex patent questions by employing analogies to chocolate-chip cookie recipes and designs for carving a baseball bat from a tree trunk. The court is expected to decide the case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics Inc. (No. 12-398), before July.

Monday’s arguments boiled down to a battle of analogies, with Myriad lawyer Gregory Castanias contending that the company’s work in isolating the gene was akin to carving a baseball bat from a tree trunk—producing a new product that had been wholly contained within an organism.

That example struck out with Chief Justice John Roberts, who said that carving a bat required a transformative level of ingenuity absent from Myriad’s claim, which amounted simply to “snipping” an existing gene from DNA strands.

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