The big news in biotech this week is the court ruling against Myriad Genetics and gene patents. As Genomics Law Report discusses, this was an overwhelming win for the plaintiffs (which included the ACLU and various research and patients' organizations). The judge issued a summary judgement, which means 1) that both sides of the case agreed on the basic facts, and 2) the law was judged to be overwhelmingly on the plaintiff's side:

For either side to receive summary judgment, it must show that there are no disputed issues of fact that require a trial to resolve, and that, on the undisputed facts, the law mandates judgment in its favor. This standard is especially hard for a plaintiff to meet, since it bears the burden of proof at trial. At the summary judgment stage, a defendant can usually create an issue of fact and thereby avoid summary judgment just by saying “they have the burden of proof at trial, and a jury might not believe them.” Although this is an unusual case in that the basic facts—most notably Myriad’s patent claims and the fundamental biology and genetics that makes possible those claims—really are not in dispute, a summary judgment ruling for the plaintiffs nonetheless sends a clear message about how strong this particular judge thought their case was—and how weak he thought Myriad’s was.

I'm sympathetic to the need for intellectual property protection as biotechnology companies invest resources in developing technologies to the point where those technologies become beneficial to society. But gene patents were the wrong way to go about it. Not only have gene patents been inhibiting both research and diagnostics based on genome-wide genotyping, but they also feel just fundamentally wrong. I'm not a moral philosopher, but Myriad's claim that their not patenting something that already exists in nature, because their patent covers only the isolated form of the gene, sounds like sophistry. In practice, as the plaintiffs argued, some of your genes were basically the intellectual property of Myriad Genetics.

Gene patents are an obsolete and ineffective model for intellectual property protection that maybe made more business sense in the 1990's, but not now.

Read the ACLU's blog post on the judgment.

Read the feed: