Patenting Human Genes

May 31, 2013 • Volume 23, Issue 20
Should the Supreme Court uphold patents on human genes?
By Kenneth Jost


A demonstrator stands outside the U.S. Supreme Court (AFP/Getty Images/Mladen Antonov)
A demonstrator stands outside the U.S. Supreme Court on April 15, 2013, as the justices prepared to hear arguments on the highly charged issue of whether human genes can be patented. Myriad Genetics is defending its patent rights before the court in a closely watched case brought by a coalition of scientists, clinicians, patients and women's health groups. (AFP/Getty Images/Mladen Antonov)

The Supreme Court is set to decide by the end of June a case challenging a Utah company's patents on two breast-cancer genes that can indicate heightened risks of breast or ovarian cancer. Myriad Genetics has used its gene patents to maintain a monopoly on the lucrative market for genetic testing among women worried about a family history of breast cancer. Backed by patent lawyers and other biotech firms, the company argues that gene-related patents provide financial incentives for medical research, but women's health advocates say Myriad's aggressive use of its patent rights has made it harder and more expensive for women to have genetic testing. The case drew added attention this month when the actress Angelina Jolie revealed that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy after testing positive for a defective breast cancer gene.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Genetics and Cloning
Jun. 14, 2019  Consumer Genetic Testing
Apr. 26, 2019  Manipulating Human Genes
Sep. 15, 2017  Medical Breakthroughs
Jun. 19, 2015  Manipulating the Human Genome
May 31, 2013  Patenting Human Genes
Jan. 21, 2011  Genes and Health
May 15, 2009  Reproductive Ethics
Oct. 22, 2004  Cloning Debate
May 18, 2001  Designer Humans
May 12, 2000  Human Genome Research
Dec. 17, 1999  Embryo Research
May 28, 1999  DNA Databases
Apr. 03, 1998  Biology and Behavior
May 09, 1997  The Cloning Controversy
Dec. 08, 1995  Gene Therapy's Future
Apr. 08, 1994  Reproductive Ethics
Oct. 18, 1991  Gene Therapy
Aug. 16, 1991  Fetal Tissue Research
Jun. 30, 1989  Solving Crimes with Genetic Fingerprinting
Apr. 03, 1987  Biotechnology Developments
Jan. 10, 1986  Genetic Breakthroughs
Dec. 26, 1980  Genetic Business
Mar. 25, 1977  Genetic Research
May 19, 1971  Human Engineering
Aug. 20, 1969  Human Intelligence
Dec. 13, 1967  Genetics and the Life Process
Antitrust and Monopolies
Genetic Disorders and Medical Genetics
Science and Politics
Supreme Court History and Decisions