A federal judge in New York struck down patents on two genes linked to breast cancer in a ruling that could have far-reaching effects on genetics in the biotech industry, if upheld.
In a 152-page ruling on Monday, Judge Robert Sweet made invalid seven patents that involve the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, mutations of which are linked to breast cancer. The patents are held by Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah.
The judge concluded in part that the patents should not have been awarded because they were essentially on products of nature not resulting from human action.
"The patents issued by the USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office) are directed to a law of nature and were therefore improperly granted," he ruled in part.
A lawsuit had dated from May 2009, and was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Public Patent Foundation in cooperation with groups representing patients and medical groups.
Plaintiffs argued that genes were outside the scope of intellectual property protection, and unduly complicated research.
Myriad Genetics had asked the court to throw our the suit arguing that the expertise and the effort required to isolate DNA justified the granting of a patent.
Similar patents have been around for some time. The Supreme Court upheld granting protection of rights over living organisms in 1980.
The impact of the ruling is potentially great: about 20 percent of all human genes are subject to patent protection in a business that moves billions of dollars.